While on the island of Koh Tao, I’d volunteered to be Trash Hero on several occasions and was tickled to see that Koh Lipe had their own Trash Hero organization as well!
Koh Lipe has amazingly beautiful clean and clear waters surrounding all its edges, which honestly was surprising seeing how many longtail boats (easily over 100 with petrol run engines) were parked along the shores and the amount of trash that could be found washed up along the beaches.
Yes, this was my only critique of this otherwise lovely island. Trash could be found everywhere on the beaches. Generally the trash was washed up fairly high along the coast line so you could easily find spots closer to the water free from trash to lay on, but still seeing all the waste was disconcerting.
The Trash Hero chapter on Koh Lipe thankfully is quite well organized however. They meet every Monday at the start of the Walking Street along Pattaya Beach (if at other locations, someone at the Dive shop there will direct you). Along with the weekly trash pick-ups on Mondays they offer full day and even week-long trash volunteer programs where you can be dropped off on an island for up to 2 weeks, camp and eat there, enjoy the nature and pick up trash for 4 hours a day! Had I the time to stay longer, I would have signed up for that adventure, but alas…
I showed up along with 2 other volunteers at the end of the Walking Street on a Monday morning, and we were directed by one of the Dive Shop employees that the meeting location had been moved to the north end of Sunrise beach. So we headed off and were joined with another 5 people waiting to volunteer.
From there, we hopped on a longtail boat and headed to a nearby island (Ko Adang) to get started on picking up trash. To my surprise, when we arrived, there were at least 5 other longtail boats already there, each carrying at least 5-10 people! So in total, between the organizers (about 5) and the volunteers, there were probably about 30 of us! It was amazing to see such a great turnout!!!
We spent several hours picking up trash, then enjoyed a nice break with fresh watermelon and beers! Volunteers even enjoyed a nice swim at the end some even did some snorkeling 🙂 The amount of trash picked up in such a small amount of space was astounding!! I would venture to guess over 50 large trash bags worth! Absolutely unbelievable as the stretch of beach we picked trash from was no more than about 50 meters long.
Once the beers were consumed and the swimming was finished, we loaded the trash into the boats and headed back to Koh Lipe. From there, the group went to a local bar for some lunch and socializing.
A few things I’d recommend for anyone out there wanting to volunteer for Trash Hero on Koh Lipe: First, bring a camera because you never know where you are going to go and the beauty to be seen! Second, wear your bathing suit so you can join in with the swimming! Third, bring money and don’t make any plans after the fact if you are wanting to join the others for a late lunch after volunteering:)
But most importantly, if you are going to visit Koh Lipe, please do your part. Don’t litter while there, and join in to be a Trash Hero!!
Getting to this beautiful and teeny little island in the Andaman Sea was quite treacherous at some points, but very much well worth the trip!!
Along Walking Street
Really I should (or rather could) simply blame the travel treachery on the fact that I was traveling during low season. There’s a reason why it’s low season! Simply stated the seas are unpredictable. In high season it is relatively easy (due to calm waters) and cheaper to get from island to island via a longtail taxi boat or other ferry boats, however once again because of low season the options were limited.
I left Ko Muk (Mook) easily on the morning ferry (which seemed to not only haul a couple of tourists but also local commuters to the mainland and bundles of rubber ready to be processed into final products) for the mainland where I was met by a mini bus. Several very rainy hours later, we came upon a stop where I was told to exit the mini bus. The name of the town, I can’t at this point recall, but it was a good 20 minute motorbike ride to the Pak Bara pier for Ko Lipe.
100 baht and 20-ish minutes later and I was at a teeny tour place near the pier buying my roundtrip (open return!) ticket for Ko Lipe. As I waited for the powerboat, I encountered my first and only unsettling experience as a solo traveler. Ladies, if you are traveling solo (or even with people!) to or from this pier, beware of the very large (literally) local. He’s on the younger side, but you can’t miss which one he is because he really is quite obese. When I first arrived I thought he was part of the working crew at the pier, but after observing him for a bit, I figured out he wasn’t. What made him unsettling was he kept trying to get VERY close to me and other female tourists. He would sit next to you on a bench, then try to shake your hand, then try to hug you, and even tried to lean in to kiss you!
Dog Daily Swim
Bars along Pattaya
What was more suspicious of his behavior as I watched, was that he would first look around as he tried to sit with a female, and if he didn’t spot any actual workers or security guards, he would sit. But if he did (even when halfway down) he would immediately jump up and walk away. With me, he did get as far as sitting next to me and trying for a hug to which I immediately put a very harsh stop to his behavior. He left me alone for the remainder of my wait, but when coming back to the pier on my way back Ko Lipe, he was there again up to the same antics! Beware female travelers!
Hunting Sea Urchins
Hunting Sea Urchins_2
Hunting Sea Urchins_3
Now the only other unpleasant portion of getting to Ko Lipe was the powerboat ride itself. Again, it was because of the unpredictable low season seas, but if you are one who gets sea sick easily, I recommend to travel only when the seas are calm!! The ride was only a couple of hours long but they were very bumpy, and at some points a bit unnerving as the powerboat launched skyward and then slammed down onto an oncoming wave. Just about everyone on the boat (except the locals chilling all their way in the back smoking away) lost their lunch, and some even lost their breakfast, and perhaps even the meals from the day before! Yes, it was THAT rough! I almost lost it at one point smelling all the vomit surrounding me, but thankfully I didn’t… But I won’t share what I kept saying to myself in order to prevent myself from getting sick because it may make some readers lose their lunches just reading it, lol!
When we arrived to Ko Lipe, the seas were calm (protected by beautifully lush surrounding islands) as we disembarked on a floating dock and switched to a longtail taxi boat for the 2 minute transfer to the island. Once again, I didn’t have a room booked anywhere, so once on land I started my usual walk around to try to find a place. We were dropped off by the longtail boats on Sunrise beach (beautiful beach along the East side of the island) and it wasn’t until I made it to Pattaya beach along the South side of the island that I was able to find a place.
Again, because of low season, many of the places along Sunrise beach were closed. In fact, even walking along the walking street in the middle of the day, the island felt relatively deserted, giving the place a slightly spooky feel to it. As I wandered along Pattaya beach with my backpack and sweating my rear off (despite the cloud cover) I finally spotted a little sign for The Seaside Resort. For 500 baht a night, I got my own bungalow with a bathroom and lovely porch, only about a 30 second walk from the stunning beach. The people were very friendly (though they didn’t speak a ton of English) and accommodating for my week stay there.
While at first I wasn’t entirely convinced I liked Ko Lipe (due to the initial spooky vibe I got), after my first full day there I was in love with the place and honestly would never want to go there during high season just because I grew to adore how quiet it was and couldn’t imagine it stuffed to the gills with tourists.
Though it is a teeny island, there was plenty of walking and hiking trails to various areas of the island and the snorkeling on Pattaya beach was stunning!! I spent hours for days on end watching clown fish nestling against sea anemones (the first in nature I’d ever seen!! I’d seen plenty of anemones, but never the clown fish with them!!); sea urchins and sea cucumbers chilling on the ocean floor; puffer fish swimming by; angel fish, damsels of all kinds, corals, clams, you name it, they pretty much had it! I was so enamored with the variety of tropical life just off the shore! And while there were several times I wished I had a waterproof camera, part of me is thankful that I was actually present for the experience instead of being fussed by getting the perfect shot and looking constantly through a lens.
Seriously, while Ko Lipe does have a couple of shortcomings (revealed in Ko Lipe Trash Hero!) it is NOT an island of Thailand to miss!!
Ko Lanta or rather Lantaaaah, which is how all the locals say “Lanta” is a 300 sq. km island just off mainland Thailand, only a short ferry ride from Phi Phi. Thailand is known as the “land of a thousand smiles” and though people throughout my travels in Thailand had been very nice and friendly, none were as smiley, friendly and good-natured as those we met on Ko Lantaaaah. That island alone could be called the land of a thousand smiles! 🙂
Lanta Long Beach
JUST a book!!
Originally, Anna and I were only planning on using Ko Lantaaaah as a brief stopping point, a jump off to get to Ko Ngai (aka Hai) or Ko Mook (aka Muk). However, things always change when traveling. Mind you, both Anna and myself are very easy going travellers. Whenever we asked locals about getting to one place or another, if they said “no, you should go here instead, or do this instead” well, we just about always followed that.
Anna on the Beach
Beach at Sunset
Beach at Sunset_2
It all started as we were waiting to board our ferry to Lantaaaah. We were down by the pier hanging out when we were approached by Win, one of the locals. He showed us a brochure for Lanta New Beach, a hotel just along Long Beach on Ko Lanta. At first we brushed it off, but then started to think that maybe it would be better to stay one night in Lantaaaah, just so we didn’t have to have such a long travel day in getting to the other islands.
Beach at Sunset_3
Beach at Sunset_4
So for 500 baht, we booked one night at Lanta New Beach at the Phi Phi pier. Funnily enough, we almost ended up missing the ferry because though we were right there, Win kept saying to wait for him and he’d let us know when to board, but then suddenly he was gone and we were running to the ferry. When we arrived at the ferry, all the locals were laughing at us and signaling us to calm down and just walk. They had been waiting for us apparently but they also didn’t seem in any rush to get going on time.
Ready to Ride
Once we boarded, the real salesmanship games began! Win, along with other gentlemen Toom and Mark (and at least 3 others) were circulating around the boat selling people accommodations and tours. Toom was standing nearby speaking to some guys sitting behind us about various tours. They kept asking questions about getting to Ko Tao and other destinations, and even though they kept arguing with him about the prices, everything Toom was saying about each destination (costs, etc) was directly on point. So I knew (as did Anna) that he wasn’t full of it or just trying to hike prices for no reason. I wanted to tell the boys behind us that they were idiots for not listening, but it wasn’t my business to do so.
Anna with Shelter Cats
Anna with Shelter Cats_2
Anyway, once Toom finished up with the boys, he moved onto Anna and I. We had already booked Lanta New Beach for the night, so he began asking us whether we wanted any tours. Out came a brochure on an elephant trekking adventure that his father owned. I should mention at this point that one of Anna’s objectives while visiting me in Thailand was to ride on an elephant. Personally, while I like the idea of it, how they treat the animals and whether the animals are really happy about taking people on rides was my primary concern. But talking with Toom put my mind to rest and Anna and I signed up for an elephant trekking tour, which also included a hike to a waterfall and bat cave.
Ready to Ride_2
Ready to Ride_3
We arrived at Ko Lanta, loaded into a truck and were dropped off at Lanta New Beach. We thought we had died and gone to heaven!!! After spending the past 4 nights in the ‘Kamikaze Cockbox’, we had now arrived to a beautiful hotel which basically offered anything and everything one might want! They had 2 pools (one of which was just outside our door) the structures were all solid, they were located directly on the beach, they offered a large variety of massages right on the beach, they had a restaurant and bar (which offered Happy Shakes!) and a tour office on site as well! We were so awe-struck, especially considering it was only 500 baht per night!
Overdressed for the Beach
A Motorbike Taxi!
Needless to say, we ended up staying there 4 or 5 nights living it up with almost daily massages, dining like queens, swimming in the lovely pools, enjoying cocktails with the setting sun nightly and having our first taste of Lao Cow (Whiskey made in Thailand!!). Our days were filled with relaxing, the elephant trekking tour, wandering around town shopping, riding around the island on a motorbike we rented for only 200 baht a day to the Sea Gypsy village and Old Town, and a short visit to the Animal Sanctuary. Though Lantaaaah was a bit of a ghost town (being low-season and all), it was such a breath of fresh air compared to Phi Phi and definitely worth the visit!!
Getting away from the party scene on Ko Phi Phi Don isn’t hard. The East side of the island as well as Long Beach on the far east side of the southern bay are two great spots to really feel like you are getting away from it all. Whether you choose to walk or hire a longtail boat taxi to get there is up to you. 🙂
The one good thing about having chosen to stay at Phutawan (technically Phi Phi Hill Bungalows) was the close proximity to the viewpoint. We were only a short uphill hike to a rather stunning view of the two bays of Ko Phi Phi. The signs to get up there were fairly reasonable and noticeable. However the signs on how to get to the beaches of Rantee, Moo Dee or Ao Toh Ko on the east side of the island from the viewpoint was another story!! To be fair, we were warned in advance (thanks again to a post on Travelfish) that the signs would be sketchy at best!
Other than the signage issue, the hike downhill wasn’t terrible. The jungle was very thick at times, mosquitos hovered around every pore on our bodies and took to nibbling on us the second we stopped or paused, and at some points it took a little bit of clever maneuvering to continue on, but overall wasn’t bad. On the other side, the beautiful beaches and quiet greeted us! Granted, compared to the Lo Dalam, the beaches weren’t as spectacular but they were still beautiful in their own way.
We spent the afternoon snorkeling, having lunch, reading books and of course drinking beers. Earlier in the day we had the best of intentions to actually hike back up the hill to the viewpoint and then back down to our bungalow again… But of course after a few beers and the fact that the sun was starting to set a little (the other excuse we used to not hike back up, lol!) we opted to take a taxi boat back:)
We made it to Long Beach a couple of days later. What a difference in vibe that beach was!! The party scene was transformed into a chilled and relaxed family-type vibe! No doubt this part of town was where the money stayed as well, as the bungalows and other resorts here were quite impressive! It was only about a 15-20 minute (very easy) walk from the main town area, but the energy was completely different!! We found a little alcove on the beach with stunning white sands and lots of easy snorkeling. There was also a restaurant and outdoor massage area for the ultimate in relaxation! As we did with all the other beaches we’d been to, our afternoon was whisked away with reading, tanning, snorkeling and…. you guessed it! Drinking beers! 🙂
I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok. Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated. The train was very basic. No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks. People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey. Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.
Along the Tracks
Along the Tracks_2
Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :). Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.
Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse. Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!! The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door! I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.
Baan Are Gong Guesthouse
Baan Are Gong Guesthouse_2
Baan Are Gong Guesthouse_3
Baan Are Gong Guesthouse_4
The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in. Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs. But no shower curtain… So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering. Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that! So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor. There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!
But all in all, I adored this hostel!! They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got! The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.
Mama Dog 12 years!
My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday. One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms! No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!! A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off. It was such a fantastic time!!
King’s Birthday Celebrations
King’s Birthday Celebrations_2
King’s Birthday Celebrations_3
King’s Birthday Celebrations_4
King’s Birthday Celebrations_5
King’s Birthday Celebrations_6
Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available. From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more! Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners. Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.
Sandstone Buddha Image
Sandstone Buddha Image_2
One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about. Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of. Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon??? Do they have those here??? Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!! Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’. Interesting stuff!
I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂
They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street. I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area. I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit_2
Wat Phra Si Samphet
My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour. For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram. The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)
Oban! Pronounced Oh-Bin… What a lovely little place to visit! Sadly the weather was absolute crap during my stay, but at least I got a little sample:)
I took the bus from Inverness (or In-bir-nis in Gaelic) early and headed to Oban. I skipped going to Fort William because I had heard there really wasn’t much to do there, but in Oban there is the opportunity to go to several neighboring islands via ferry or boat, etc. So I was excited to check out the area for sure! On the way there just outside of town there is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary!!! I was quite tempted to jump off the bus right then and there as one of the stops was just in front of the facility, but that would not have been very sound seeing as I had my backpack with me… Plus, I figured I could always go back since I was staying three nights in Oban.
I spotted the hostel I had pre-booked to stay in (Oban Backpackers) as we drove down the main street to the bus station. I headed easily out to the hostel and was greeted by a very accommodating and friendly German man. I’m honestly not sure he took a single breath during his 5 minute “welcome introduction” lol!! But just as the Inverness Student Hostel was, Oban Backpackers was also warm, welcoming and a generally great place to stay!! They had large areas where people could hang out and chat and offered an area to put down the backpacks while one waited to check in! Just love that feature in a hostel since many times I had arrived too early to check into my room but didn’t want to be stuck hauling my crap around or sitting at the hostel simply waiting for check-in!!
But I’m rambling again… Since I had arrived a bit earlier than the actual check-in time, I put my crap down in the designated area and headed out with a very detailed map of Oban, which I acquired from the very friendly hostel host! The map itself was already very detailed (you know, one of those tourist maps provided by the city) but the host marked several areas of interest on mine before I left his presence so that I would know everywhere to go and see and do right off the bat! Obviously he was used to a gazillion of the same questions from travelers, so in an attempt to stave them all off, he simply answered them all up front, lol!!
So with my map in hand and my bag no longer on my back I headed to the Oban Tower. Located only about 10 minutes up the hill from the hostel, it provided a great place to take some aerial shots of the town!! From there I just wandered around the small town just exploring and getting ideas on what to do for the next coming days while there. The town itself is a little horse shoe shaped town located directly on the water. It has a shipping dock and lots of varieties of boats bobbing in the harbor all for their various purposes. There are even castles just a short hike up the way from the main part of town AND even a whiskey distillery in the center of town!! Yes, Oban does offer quite a bit of activities for those looking to kill a few days in a cute seaside town in Scotland…
Now, even though there were trails to walk, castles to see, a Sea Life Sanctuary to visit, a whiskey distillery to tour and nearby islands to take a ferry to for a few hours… I did absolutely none of those… 😦
I know!!! I know!! I’m totally bonkers!!! And I promise I TRIED to go see the castles and the Sea Life Sanctuary and even the distillery, but alas no… I’m totally going to blame it ALL on the weather!!! Yes, the weather!! I already mentioned above that the weather was absolute crap while I was there… And yes, it was just cold and windy and blustery basically the entire time I was there!! Ok, well the first day wasn’t so bad, but since I didn’t bother or care to look up an extended forecast for the area, instead of putting my rear in gear and actually doing some of the hikes and island visits on my first day (or half day, since I used the morning bit to get there!!) I simply spent it walking around and planning my activities for the next days… So anyway, yea… The first day was quite successful in the sense that I had a solid plan on what I was doing for the next couple days…
But the next day, once I rose and dressed and stepped outside into the blustery cold and wet and WINDY weather, I realized that all my plans were about to go to right out the window!! I first searched for something to nibble, then headed to the boat dock to see about catching a ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera, where there is a lovely monastery to walk around and enjoy a coffee in… But the docks were closed due to the windy weather. No boats, no ferry’s, no island… So I wandered to bus station to find out about the Sea Life Sanctuary bus to see if I could catch it and at least spend some time there. However, the majority of the park would have been outdoors and on the water basically, so if the weather was crap here, 20 minutes up the road wouldn’t be much improved… So I decided against that action… I thought ok, what about walking to the castles??
Finally an option that may work out! So I headed back through town on the main road, then cut through a little side street to the trail that would lead to the castles and just as I rounded the corner got slammed with the biggest wind gust yet!! My poncho flapped around me viciously while I got pelted in the face with rain drop after rain drop… This was not good!! And after only a block of that nonsense I turned back up the next little side street and headed back to the hostel to warm up.
After inquiring about “what to do on nasty weather days” to the hostel host (whiskey tour is what he suggested… or just a pub!) I headed to the whiskey distillery and decided against the tour (I wasn’t really that in the mood for whiskey, plus had no way to carry the glass gift they apparently gave at the end in my backpack) so I did the next best thing… Went to the pub!
Turned out to be a fine rest of the day as far as I was concerned!! Met an interesting guy from the States who was traveling all of the UK and Ireland on his motorcycle!! He actually had his personal motorcycle flown over and was driving it all around!! Needless to say he was being responsible and only had food and one drink at the bar, but it was really cool to meet someone who was doing something that brave!! Well done on him!!
So that’s how I killed my days in Oban… Ate, drank, drank, ate, curled up for a movie on my Samsung Tablet, and generally found any excuse to stay out of the weather and stay indoors!!! Some of my roommates had tried to go to the castle as well, and they succeeded!!! Brave couple!! However they didn’t really get to see anything at all since the mist was all around and the castles were closed… LOL!! Poor things!! They really looked wrecked when they came back!! But I’m sure they still had a great time being adventuresome!!
The next morning thankfully turned out to be a sunny one and we prepped ourselves for the Park. As mentioned in the last post, the walk to the National Park was only about 300 meters from our hostel. As we walked toward the Park up ahead in the Park trees a bunch of the tree tops began to rustle and a deep, penetrating roar could be heard coming from the rustle… It literally reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park with a T-Rex about to emerge from the dense forest, roaring as it did!! It was a little unnerving until I was informed that it was only a Howler Monkeys making the noise and that there was nothing to fear. When we arrived at the entrance (about 8am) there were already a ton of tourist groups lined up in various places getting their troops together to enter the Park. B, A and I purchased our tickets (again $10 for tourists though this time I paid with colones and paid less than $10… perhaps it was because of the current daily exchange rate that the Parks do pay attention to) and entered the Park.
A few things we were told through the grape-vine about the Park prior to entering was #1 do not hire a private tour guide as many other tourists do this so you can always “bum” in their tours by simply looking where their tour guide is pointing to find something interesting and #2 go off the beaten path when possible away from the rest of the tourists and you will be guaranteed to see much more!
Keeping that information in mind we set in our walk without a guide. Both pieces of advice above came in great handy as alone the main path of the Park several tour guides had already set up shop with their binoculars on tripods pointing out insects and crabs to their hired tourists or pointing high in the trees sharing interesting information on a particular plant or tree. Luckily for us, B was a botanist (there is actually a more accurate name for his title, I just can’t recall what it is… Sorry B!! But I do know that his work involves cataloging every species of plant and tree!) and he knew just about everything there was to know about every plant so in a sense we already had a fabulous guide for that portion.
We made our way along the path sighting many spiders, a scorpion eating a wasp, a variety of crabs hidden in a variety of clever places, a toucan (YAY!!!) and lizards!!
At a certain point we came across a point of crossroads where we could either go straight, right or scootch our way around the “closed” sign of a path to our left… Well of course we chose the path to our left!! 😉 The path was closed because it hadn’t been groomed recently, but it didn’t bother us at all. We made our way up the path to a quiet area where no sounds except that of nature could be heard. It was amazingly blissful!! So quiet with only the sound of the wind rustling gently through the trees. It is quite an amazing thing to stop and just listen to the beauty of nature!! We stayed there for a bit taking in the sounds until some new sound caught my attention high in the trees. Of course curiosity took over good sense as I followed the noise only to spot my first Howler Monkey!!!!!
Such amazing creatures!! These small, black monkeys with faces so familiar in human features and hands even more so familiar are just an incredible sight to take in!! They travel in troops usually anywhere from about a dozen to a dozen and a half! There is only one alpha male of the group and the rest are females or young males and it’s also pretty common to find a new mom in the troop as well. Their hands and feet, as well as the underside of about the last 6 inches of their tail do not have any fur on them so they can easily grip surfaces. The roar of the alpha male can be heard from great distances around! I have since found out that they only roar early in the morning or to announce to another approaching troop that they are coming too close to their territory, or if rain is approaching!
As I gazed above me in wonder, they simply gazed right back wondering what it was I was up to! I of course took a few photos and kept my voice low as I called my friends over to see them as well and then we continued up and up and up the path again passing many other lizards and even an Agouti or a Tapir that ran off too fast to take pictures of (hence why I’m not entirely sure which it was exactly… but it was definitely a land mammal). The path ended on a platform at what seemed like the top of the world!! Though it wasn’t a 360 degree view, it was still magnificent!! You could clearly see the bay below and the jutting rocks that formed it, as well as a little cave carved into the rock, as well as the land clear south of us all the way to what we speculated to be the Oso Peninsula!!
After several pictures we headed back down the path to the main portion passing many other tourists who had also opted to take the “unbeaten” path. Now sadly, it was about this time that the batteries in my camera started to fail… I was able to get a picture or two in, but then would have to shut the camera down, take the batteries out to rest for several minutes then reload them and pray they would work again for a few more pictures!!
There are about 5 walking trails in the Manuel Antonio National Park and we ended up taking each of them to their various destinations. Along another path of interest, we came across a tourist and his young son. They were surrounded by a large troop of Capuchin Monkeys!! The Capuchin monkeys are most famously recognized from their white faces and black bodies, as well as their “star” quality. They can be seen in movies such as Outbreak and the Hangover Part II, as well as in the TV show Friends. Now I don’t advocate the use of wild animals for our entertainment, nor was I thrilled about the scene we had encountered. Despite the Park rules that warned to NOT FEED THE ANIMALS this father was blatantly ignoring them as he and his young son continued to offer the monkeys a variety of fruits. While it was quite an amazing feeling to have so many monkeys coming at you and around you in every direction all trying to get their piece of fruit, I opted to remove myself from the center as I do not agree with feeding wild animals, and this next bit is part of the reason why: At one point the young son was trying to offer one of the monkeys a piece of fruit. The monkey was quite reluctant to simply take the piece of fruit from the boy’s hand, so it didn’t. The boy, probably too young to understand the wrong in his behavior and not being told otherwise from his dad, continued to push his arm forward toward the monkey, trying to entice it to take the fruit. A few moments later, the monkey had had enough and literally slapped the outstretched hand of the boy away and screeched!! The father finally stepped in and told the boy to no longer feed the monkeys and they headed away.
Wild animals are wild folks, and should remain that way!! We have no business interfering with their nature and even less business trying to tame them. Ok, I’ve said my peace on that topic for now… moving on!
This particular path ended at a magnificent lagoon-like beach!! Unlike the black sands of Manuel Antonio beaches in the “city”, this beach had white powdered sand!! Hermit crabs were everywhere by the hundreds as well as a variety of crabs once again. Sadly, myself nor my two companions had realized there were beaches in the Park to swim in, so none of us had our suits on to be able to swim!! So for all of you out there who are planning to visit the Park, please take that bit of advice as your #3 lesson:)
We hung around this beach for a bit wading around the water and taking pictures (camera battery pending) and then started to head toward the exit. The exit path went right along another large and lengthy beach portion that once again made me “tisk” at myself for not thinking to bring a suit. Many tourists were lined on the beach taking in the sun and enjoying the water. We even spotted some caper bandits (i.e. raccoons) going through some tourist bags that were left on the beach for some goodies they could eat.
All in all we had already spent about 4 hours walking around the Park, so each of us were ready at this point to exit and get something to eat and of course a cold brew.
When we reached the exit, we were greeted by a few men with little row boats. Indeed the only way to exit the Park (unless you were willing to walk ALL the way back to the main entrance) was to cross a little river, too deep to wade through (another reason the suit would have come in handy!!) for $1.00 a piece! With no other real choice we all paid and took the maybe 15 meter boat ride back to the “main land” and headed back to the hostel.
The rest of this day was spent simply relaxing, enjoying good food and of course some good beer on the beach!! It was quite a nice ending to a fantastic Park day! It was during this afternoon that B, A and I shared our plans for the next day. “A” had only a few more days in Costa Rica and planned to spend them in Montezuma (on the tip of the Nicoyo Peninsula). “B” opted to spend his remaining days in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio, and I planned to continue heading South to Uvita.
I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”. The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.
About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others. For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast! I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in. Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel. It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)
Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there! But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night. Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee). So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!
In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado! I absolutely love those casados!!!
Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together. I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was. Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was. If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there. And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…
The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list. First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be. Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here! They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at. And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.
Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours. Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring. I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)
It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall. Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!! But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead! Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good! I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid! I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures. And I was off for my hike…
About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat. In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!! My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp! The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on! Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!! People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!
But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:( You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park. And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it. So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.
The walk back to town was much nicer!! All downhill with a little breeze to boot! The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.
Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!! I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!