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Kayak to Koh Nangyuan

Off the North West of the island of Koh Tao, there lies another much smaller privately owned island of Koh Nangyuan.  Since being on Koh Tao for the past couple of months now, I’ve always thought to go visit Koh Nangyuan as I’d heard spectacular things about it.  Of course it has popular spots for diving and snorkeling, but it also has a bit of hiking and provides beautiful views looking back on Koh Tao.  To get there however one must either go on a snorkel/diving tour or hire a taxi boat.  Since I was on my own I couldn’t justify paying the price for a taxi boat, however I knew that Anna (my neighbor in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and whom I’d visited in Scotland and she’d visited me in Italy) was coming for a 5 week trip to Thailand.  So I waited for her to come to do some of the activities that aren’t near as fun solo as with a traveling buddy.

When Anna first arrived we were absolutely lazy.  I stopped doing Muay Thai, we slept in until 10 every day, had cocktails nightly on Sairee beach and generally lounged about.  When I’m on my own I’m in travel mode which means saving every penny and taking advantage of every day.  But when a friend arrives who is on vacation mode, the spending increases and the relaxing skyrockets!  Isn’t that what people do on vacation??  After the first week however we snapped to and started actually planning activities that extended beyond reading books and napping on the beach.  Afterall, there is literally so much to do and see on this teeny 21 square km island that it’s impressive!

One of the activities I saved for her visit was to visit Koh Nangyuan.  But instead of going there the “conventional” way, we opted to kayak there :).  Deb and Rick (friends I’d made on the island who own my favorite coffee and sandwich shop on the island, Through the Looking Glass) suggested where to go to rent the kayaks.  So semi-early one day after a couple of cups of coffee, Anna and I made our way to Wind Beach for the kayak rental.  For 600 baht we rented a double kayak complete with life jackets and a dry bag for the entire day.  We were supposed to give something as a deposit for the rental (passport- though recently I heard it’s actually illegal for people in Thailand to hold your passport, monetary deposit, room key, something!) but as we didn’t arrive THAT prepared, after a few minutes the guy simply said, “no problem, just write your name, where you stay on the island and where you from”.  Good thing!

We packed the kayak with our stuff and a large plastic bottle of water, snapped on the life vests and headed out to sea!  I’d only done sea kayaking once before in my life and that was years ago in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica in a single kayak to boot.  Riding in a double kayak is a teeny bit different.  First off communication is KEY!!  For if one person is paddling right and the other left, well no one would get anywhere!  Since Anna is similar in nature to myself however, even when we did goof up or get out of sync, we simply laughed it up and got back in communication.  It did take probably the first 10 minutes or so for us to completely organize ourselves with our respective duties on the kayak (Anna in the back would call out commands- left, right, steering!!- and I in the front would look out for obstacles) but once we did we rocked it out!

The morning sea while not insanely choppy did have quite a few waves to overcome.  The channel between Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan is often frequented by passing dive boats, tour boats and taxi boat traffic which added to the waves, but we took it all in stride.  Currents were another thing to contend with as we found ourselves often being spun toward land so we had to paddle to the left much more than to the right, which of course exhausted that side faster.

We crossed the channel safely however and then were faced with a new question… Where are we supposed to park this thing over there??  We weren’t given any instruction when we left so who knew where it was appropriate to land… The first little bay area we reached, just next to the pier where the boats came in, was where we decided to go and we very slowly and carefully navigated our way to shore.  I say “slowly and carefully” because just beneath the surface were tons and tons of coral and sea slugs/cucumbers!  We had to paddle very shallowly as well so we wouldn’t knock any corals and navigating became a bit trickier to avoid the living marine life.  We thankfully made it to shore without incident to marine life however and pulled the kayak to dry land.

It just seems that each beach that I’ve been to in Thailand just gets more and more beautiful than the next.  Koh Nangyuan is no exception!!  The structure of the island is essentially two small island connected by a sandbar which on either side exists beautiful ocean bays full of a ridiculously lush array of sea life!  We immediately had to get in the water to cool off and do a bit of snorkeling.  The snorkel didn’t last terribly long that first time however because the fish in that particular bay kept nibbling at us… Guess they knew we were new to the island, lol!!

As we emerged from the first “dip in the pool” we were approached by a Thai gentlemen who obviously worked on the island.  He asked if we were the ones with the kayak and then said we had to each pay 100 baht to be on the island…  It was then that we were told that this island was privately owned and hence there was a fee to walk about it and play in the waters surrounding it… We did come with plenty of money, but it would have been nice to know in advance of this extra charge.  So I’m sharing it for future travelers!  Also, I don’t know if for the taxi boats, if the charge to get there includes or not the 100 baht fee to be on the island… In any event, just be aware of this additional cost.

Moving on.  The small island bit to the South had a walking trail that led around the edge of the island to a beautiful viewpoint, so we headed off on it to check it out.  Mind you, it is possible to sleep on the island so as we skirted along the very shady (i.e. sketchy) barely still standing wooden plank path, we were passing several pleasant-looking bungalows.  We went to the viewpoint that was on the southernmost tip of the island and then had to turn back as the wooden path was falling apart and almost demolished in bits beyond a point, and headed up the trail that led to the top of the island for another viewpoint.

Though it was very hot and the walk was completely uphill, it really wasn’t a terrible walk by any means and not terribly high either.  The only struggle really was competing for space at the top on the rocks to be able to take pictures without other in them!  There seemed to be quite a few impatient people really who wanted to simply scramble to the top, took ages getting “just the right shot” with them in them and then hauled down.  So needless to say it took us a bit of time to get some shots, and once completed we leisurely made our way down.

At this point it was time for a nibble of food and as we sat down at the only restaurant on the island with our plastic water bottle in tow, it was then we noticed the signs just about everywhere that read “NO PLASTIC BOTTLES”…. Ooooppsss!!!!  Apparently plastic containers are NOT allowed on the island and all beverages from the restaurant are served in glass containers.  Again, just another little tip for future travelers:)  We were never yelled at for having the bottle however and we made a very big point of being sure to carry the bottle home with us, regardless of it being empty.

After the nibble it was time to check out the North end of the sandbar to see what kind of snorkeling action we could get there.  Don’t worry mothers we did wait about a half hour after food to go swimming 😉  The North end of the sandbar was lined on both sides with umbrellas and beach chairs and seeing as the sun was out in full force, we opted to pay the 150 baht for the set-up.  This part of the island was by far my favorite and it as quite evident it was the favorite of just about everyone else there too.  The water was crystal clear and reminded me of the waters I’d seen at some of the beaches on the Island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.  I lovingly started to refer to that bay as the “kiddie pool” as the waters were very calm, quite deep, but so clear you could simply stand on the edge and see all the marine life.  All sorts of fish (including puffers!!), sea urchins, anemones an cucumbers could be found in a relatively small area.  The bay was large enough however to accommodate several dozens of snorkelers and several classes of divers working on their refresher course.  It was absolutely spectacular snorkeling that I spent at least an hour exploring.

The rest of the day was simply spent reading under our shade, dipping in the kiddie pool to cool off, snorkeling and generally relaxing.  Around 4 we decided to head back to Koh Tao to turn in the kayak and though the waters were calmer in the afternoon, we did have some harrowing moments as the boat traffic (we must have hit rush hour) was a bit on the ridiculous side!  But after about 45 minutes and dodging about a dozen boats or taxis, we made it safe to shore and headed straight to the Wind Beach bar for a nice cold beer.  We watched the sunset while sipping on our beers (though it was quite cloudy at that point so not the best sunset sadly) and I even bought a beach dress from a traveling sales lady.  Though we were both exhausted from our day of activities, we had plans for the night as well… It was time to check out the Lady Boy Cabaret!

On to Night with the Ladies

Back to Thailand

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Lochgoilhead

As my time in Glasgow was coming to an end, and since again Anna and I do enjoy a good hike, we asked Anna’s dad if we could stay a few days in his cottage in Lochgoilhead.  Thankfully he said yes, and was even kind enough to let us use his truck to get there!!  He and his wife also happened to be going when we were planning to go, so we got to spend one of the nights with them:)

Her dad and step-mom were already at the cottage by the time we were able to go, so we took a cab to his house, picked up the truck and headed on out.  The drive there was all along normal 2-way lane roads, but just before we got to the turn-off where the road was only 1 lane (for 2 way traffic!!) with the little side pull-offs for people to pass, we stopped for a little lunch… There at the “Rest and be Thankful” landmark we had a bite to eat and I had my first taste of black pudding… Also known as blood sausage… Ick!!!  Is all I have to say about that!!!  I really didn’t like it at all!!  Perhaps it was mainly due to me knowing what it was to begin with, I don’t know… I think it’s just one of those things you have to grow up with to actually like…!!!  Anyway the “Rest and be Thankful” stop goes back from quite a long time ago!  Those words are inscribed on a stone (see the pictures) placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753.  Apparently the original stone  was destroyed and replaced by a commemorative stone instead… This point marked the turning point to get to Lochgoilhead.  And after our nibble, we headed on to the village where the cottage resided.

Once we arrived and settled in for a bit, we headed off for our first hike!  Again, we aren’t really the kind that prepare the way we should prepare for hikes… Honestly though we didn’t really expect the hike we ended up doing!  We simply set out just behind the cottage on a trail that led to some lovely waterfalls!  From there we saw some signs pointing this way and that, and thought, why not?  So we headed uphill, and up and up… Eventually we came to an area that looked like it could be a good place for a ski slope in the winter!  Two older people were coming down the way fully geared in proper hiking attire including ski poles, proper wind pants and hiking boots.  As we passed them we stopped them and asked how long to the top?  We didn’t get an exact time, but they did warn us about how wet and mucky the way up was and how windy it was at the top, and they further warned us not to go past the stile!  We thanked them for their input and headed on our way, figuring that if/when it got too tough for us and our completely inept sneakers/clothing for us to continue, we would turn back!

Up and up we climbed!  The slope was pretty decent, nothing really to laugh at by any means and while the land did slosh under our feet (sometimes water did sneak into the sides of my sneakers from the amount of water that pooled from some of the steps) we made it to the stile (don’t cross it!!) in good condition and basically dry.

Once at the stile there really were only two ways to go… Back down or up past the stile… Neither of us was terribly tired at this point and though the view from the stile was nice, you really couldn’t see all the way around because we were surrounded by dense forest on both sides.  And since what appeared to be the top of the hill/mountain was just a little ways beyond the stile we thought, heck, why not??  So past the stile we went!

Up and up and up we climbed!!  And it was during this hike that I was properly introduced to Scottish hills!!!!  You see, what appears to be the top of any hill/mountain in Scotland isn’t at all the top once you actually reach it… For once you get to what you thought was the top, you realize that the top is actually just a wee bit further on… And again just a wee bit further on… And again!!!  So literally we went from one “top” to another and another and another until finally what looked like would be the actual top appeared, but by that point it would probably take another hour to get to it and as it was starting to get late in the day (sun was getting lower on the horizon) we opted to give up that mountain top and do the sane and safe thing- turn back toward town!  First we had to take some picts of the surroundings and later estimated that we had probably walked about 20-25 kilometers on that hike!  We never could actually see on a map where the heck we went, but isn’t that part of the fun??  However, from the position that we made it to, you could see the town below, so we had at least some perspective of where we were!

We made it back to town just as the sun was setting, and after a pint in town we headed back to the cottage for a homemade meal!  We watched a YES!/No Thanks debate on the tv, then headed to bed (after Anna’s step-mom cleared a rather large spider from our room!!!).  The next day we rose at the rear-crack of… about 11am, lol!!  Anna’s dad and Step-mom were downstairs with trail maps/paths of the area and they gave input on where we should probably go.  We took their advice and around one or so (after packing something to nibble on- how sensible we became!!) headed out again for a hike.  Her dad and step-mom joined us for the first half-hour or so of the hike, then headed back while we headed up the trail to the steep/climbing bits.

After the hike from the day before both Anna and I were interested and pumped to climb a hill/mountain once again!!  And we thought that this particular trail would allow us to do just that… However, the trail never really led to any mountain base.  It simply wound around the base of several mountains.  Each time we tried to get to a base we were cut off by marshes or terrain so thick with heather/brush that who knew what was under!  Finally we did come to the end of the trail that basically dead-ended on the tip of a kind of peninsula.  Yet we were still quite determined to get up a hill!!  The end of the trail happened to end at the base of a mountain, but the way up was quite steep!  Did that stop us??  No, not really… We scaled part of some sheer rock on the side of the mountain up a little way… Then we came to our senses… That we were probably being really daft!!  So we gingerly made our way back down.  Seriously, the only real way to get up that particular mountain was with proper mountain climbing gear!  But again, once at the base we thought surly there MUST be a way up!  Anna happened to find a little sheep path, which we followed for several yards until it literally dead-ended at a drop hundreds of feet below us!!  Yup, we were being daft in trying to follow the sheep path…

Again we had to give up our quest for the day and headed back.  All the while that we headed back we kept looking for ways to get up a dang mountain to no avail!  It was probably best though that we didn’t find one… By the time we got back (after a brief scare with some hairy coos- well I wasn’t scared but they are known to be aggressive when babies are around, and as we walked through the field one of the coos spotted us, turned and started walking toward us.  I thought it odd behavior and then spotted some baby coos to the right… yea… we hustled a little bit out of that field!) it was almost dark again.  We had some drinks and dinner in town then wandered back to the cottage in pitch beautiful darkness!!  The kind of darkness where you can see every star!!  Just wonderful!!  Though Anna was scared out of her wits over walking in the dark and barely let me a few feet away from her, especially when it came time to cross the river, lol!!  All in all that day, we estimated we walked about 30-35 kilometers that day!  We left the next day and headed back to town (with a brief stop in the lovely town of Luss) where we had a lovely and delicious curry dinner with Anna’s mum!  Good times!! 🙂

I almost forgot about the ticks!!!  While at the Cottage, Anna’s step-mom left us an article about ticks… Beware the ticks when you hike!!  You can get Lyme disease from them!!  We laughed it off and didn’t really get bothered by the potential for ticks, though we did check ourselves for the potential of some… I never found any until a few days later when I was in Gatwick!!  4 on my arm!!  Ewww… I know!!  But they were babies and I plucked them out, watched for signs of Lyme disease, and luckily I can report I’m Lyme disease free!!  Yay!!

On to Most Random Street Signs

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

 

La Fortuna

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!!!

On to Volcan Arenal Tour

Back to Costa Rica

Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

Back to Costa Rica