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Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Apparently I don’t. On the Explore website it said the tour started in Antigua, Guatemala and ended in San Jose, Costa Rica. I had booked flights accordingly. When the trip notes came through I noticed I had booked the reverse itinerary. I shall accept “partial” responsibility. I spoke with two representatives and neither one mentioned the switch.

I kept my original flight because it was direct from Washington. I simply added a flight from Guatemala City to San Jose, and amended the return to Richmond via Atlanta.

My journey started at 6 am from Williamsburg station with a 4 hour Amtrak ride to D.C. All very pleasant save for a woman watching Netflix on her phone with no headphones. Not enough attention as a child was my verdict.

I was fully prepared for my 8 hour wait at the airport which gave me plenty of lounge time. Lounges in U.S. airports have a rather disappointing policy of charging for Sauvignon Blanc, but Chardonnay is free. Need I say more.

I’d also kept my original hotel in Antigua, Guatemala because it looked fabulous. 40 km from the airport, I arrived at midnight, checked-in, and was treated to a marvellous room around 40ft long with a vaulted ceiling, fireplace, oval bathtub and balcony. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit the ancient city of Antigua. Museo Casa Santa Domingo.

One thing that became abundantly clear in Guatemala was that I would be considered tall. The average height of a Guatemalan is 5 feet 1.57 inches – men average 5 feet 4.33 inches and women average 4 feet 10.81 inches. The fourth smallest people in the world.

The following morning was very cool. Antigua is 5000 ft above sea level and I was on the second floor. I spent the day mooching and left the hotel at 4pm to catch my 90 minute evening flight to San Jose on Avianca.

In San Jose I was met by Miguel Vasquez from Explore, and another 3 of my fellow tourers who’d flown in from London via Dallas. Their luggage hadn’t been so lucky and was going to have to catch up with us.

We were transferred to the hotel called Villa Tournon and it certainly wasn’t much of a turn on, but I didn’t care. It was after midnight and I just wanted rest.

Day 2 – Costa Rica

The following morning I met my other travelling misfits on this 16 day Highlights of Central America tour. 13 of us in total. 3 Australians, 2 Canadians, 7 Brits (including 4 Welsh), and a Chinese guy called Weidong. I’m not gonna find out.

They seem a nice enough bunch. I shall keep you posted of any abnormalities. I’m the third youngest. We have a 48 year old and a 31 year old outlier. Our senior member is Dennis from Vancouver at 71. Lovely chap with an infectious sense of humour.

After the orientation meeting, we headed around 40km north to a town called Sarapiqui. The landscape changed from city to jungle quite quickly as we wound our way north in our 18 seater minibus. We stopped on the way to see some local fruit and vegetables. I’m familiar with fruit and vegetables. I have been since a young age, so my enthusiasm needed a kick-start. As I wandered around I found some fruit that I’d not seen in Sainsbury’s. A tasting session broke out and I decided to put my future health in jeopardy and have a nibble. Boiled Pejiballe with a mayonnaise dip. I’ve gotta say the mayonnaise made the difference. Then it was pure cocoa which looked like something a large rabbit might have deposited. It was okay but won’t be challenging Cadbury’s Caramel anytime soon. Some of the group made fruity purchases. Welsh Di showed me her lovely pair of satsumas.

Then we headed to a plantation to see where the fruit had come from. Well, we were promised a plantation experience, but in reality we stopped by the side of the road and looked at some plants.

After lunching at some roadside establishment, we headed for the hotel – the Sarapiqui Rainforest Lodge which sounds as wonderful as it was. A fabulous infinity pool overlooking the rainforest. The accommodation was arranged in large conical shaped huts with 8 rooms in each. Highly acceptable.

Day 3 – Costa Rica

We’d survived the night after the fruit tasting and set off early for separate adventures. Horse riding, white water rafting, hiking or zip lining. I chose zip lining as horses and I don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

Seven of us opted for zipping through the forest. We had a couple of zip line virgins in Biddy and Lyndsey. Welsh Di admitted to being a screamer. I said nothing.

The team running it were superb and the first 7 lines were basic, but fun. I failed to slow down for the first one and did my impression of George of the Jungle as I clattered into a tree. The last one was the zip line zenith – 350 metres over a river. Highly enjoyable.

Another roadside restaurant for lunch with tree-dwelling iguanas as a sideshow. Some big buggers too.

Our lodging du jour was at the 3 star Hotel de Campo. Miguel took the group on a nighttime wildlife walk but I declined. He was a bit of a twitcher and there’s only so much excitement I can extract from seeing my 14th egret. We dined as a group and I retired early. Next stop Nicaragua.

The others left at an ungodly hour for birdwatching. I was perfectly content not to. We had a longish drive toward the border from Costa Rica into Nicaragua. The first hour driving was on a poor road surface and we all felt fully jiggled by the time we hit tarmac.

The border crossing was a bit of a faff and took longer than it could have done, but these days you can’t be too careful about who wants to leave Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua. We parted company with our first driver and picked up another in a much never vehicle. This one had curtains.

This is my first time in Nicaragua. It’s a country of 6 1/2 million people and the largest country in central America. The capital is Managua. The President of Nicaragua is Daniel Ortega who has been a political influence in the country since 1979. His wife Rosario is the Vice President.

We hugged Lake Nicaragua on the way to our hotel and the seaside resort of San Juan del Sur. This was to be the low point of our lodging experiences according to Miguel. Having said that, it was probably still the best hotel in town.

We trotted one block down to see the sunset which was spectacular. The sand was an unfortunate colour though.

We dined as a group again and shared travel tales and opinions about Prince Harry.

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