John and Sheila's bus ride through Central America
November 2001.

Saturday 10th November. Mexico. We flew into Cancun from Havana. The flight was fine but the queue get through immigration took nearly an hour. We established that there are no direct flights to Belize City, our next destination, then got the shuttle bus into town ($8 each). The bus driver kindly took us round a selection of hotels but they were all quite pricey so we finally settled for his first choice, the Plaza del Sol or unpronounceable Xbalamque Hotel. They did a 'special price' for us of $50 a night for a suite (actually one big room but very pleasant), with furniture that was all made of wood and left a pleasant perfumed smell in the room. As soon as we stepped out of the hotel we found a cheaper one round the corner ($30) but decided to stay where we were.

Cancun is like Las Vegas by the sea without the gambling; garish, with all the usual American restaurant chains. We eventually ate in La Parrilla Mexican restaurant with good food and a very spectacular special coffee, which involves two waiters pouring flaming liqueur down a cascade of jugs into the glass.

Sun 11th Nov. We had a huge buffet breakfast in the open-air restaurant at the Margarita Hotel just down the road, then had a stroll round as far as our bloated stomachs would let us. Half the town was still closed - this is not an early-morning place. We had a look at some shops and a market but most of it was aimed at tourists. We got the bus along the 'hotel zone' to the big La Isla shopping mall, very modern and impressive but the prices seem very high - about $6 for an ice cream cone at Haagen Dazs.

Back in town we had a couple of two-for-the-price-of-one Sangrias at a little restaurant, and a taco with cactus salad. The cactus was OK - they remove the spikes for the gringos. We then went back to La Parrilla for a main course, which was a Mexican grill - strips of delicious, tender meat on your own personal barbecue at the table. Scrumptious!

Mon 12th Nov. Belize. Got the 8 o'clock bus to Chetumal, a 5½ hour journey for 155 pesos each ($17). In Chetumal we transferred straight to the 2pm bus to Belize City (60 pesos/$7 each) and arrived in Belize before 6pm. Whereas the whole journey in Mexico was through scrubby jungle, Belize was predominantly agricultural, with grassland, farms and small wooden houses.

On the bus we met Ash and Paulina, a lovely couple who live in Holland. They had phoned ahead and booked the Isabel Guest House just near the swing bridge in the centre of Belize City, so we shared a taxi from the bus station with them and also checked into the Isabel. It was charming, a wooden building with high ceilings and fans. Our room seemed like the family's overflow room because all the cupboards and wardrobes were packed with their stuff and we even had the ironing board! On the taxi driver's recommendation we all went to eat at Macy's restaurant for Creole cuisine. The food was great; between us we had lobster, turtle steak and fillet of fish, along with rice, beans and spicy condiments.

  The swing bridge over Belize creek, in the centre of Belize City.
Tues 13th Nov. A lovely day exploring Belize City with Ash and Paulina. Belize City is a ramshackle, sunny, colourful, wooden place. We had breakfast in the ferry terminal and found out about boat trips to the Cayes, then walked the length and breadth of the town photographing the interesting wooden buildings.
  The Paslow Building by the Ferry Terminal, Belize City.  The ground floor is also the Post Office.
  The former Governor's residence, Belize City.

By the time we had finished we were ready for a beer. Unfortunately the restaurant that had been recommended to us had gone out of business, so after looking around for a while we ended up back at Macy's and had the same wonderful meal as last night.

Wed 14th Nov. We went for a day by the seaside. We got the speedboat taxi to Caye Caulker, one of the reef islands off the coast of Belize, 40 minutes from Belize City. On the island is a quiet, ramshackle little town of wooden restaurants and guesthouses, with lots of little boat landing stages where they run snorkeling trips to the reef. We wandered around in the blazing sun and under the palm trees, and sat in a veranda café and had cool lime juices and Cajun lobster for lunch. We strolled along the beach and found piles of huge, beautiful conch shells lying about at the water's edge. There was also half of a big lobster skeleton complete with 9-inch long 'horns' covered in spikes like a rose tree. Paulina took it home as a souvenir. (It was subsequently confiscated at Dutch customs when they got home and they had to pay a fine!)
  The Internet has arrived in bustling downtown Caye Caulker!
  But nobody's rushing to use it.

Back in Belize City we went to the 'Excellent Diner' Chinese restaurant, and we had a lobster curry that was indeed excellent. Sheila has now had lobster for her last 4 consecutive meals (not counting breakfast).

Thurs 15th Nov. Guatemala. We had a hearty breakfast at Big Daddy's above the marketplace, while watching fishermen sort lobsters on the boats below and pelicans swoop in to land on a nearby rooftop. Then we said goodbye to Ash and Paulina and caught the bus to Flores in Guatemala. It was a nice ride and the border crossing was very straightforward. The bus driver took us to a couple of hotels and we ended up in the Mayab, in a simple room with a nice view overlooking the lake.

In the late afternoon we strolled round Flores which is a lovely little town on an island in a lake, connected to the shore by a causeway. The streets are cobbled and there are interesting old houses with wooden balconies and big stone steps.

We watched the sun go down over the lake with a huge glass of freshly squeezed lime juice. Then we intended to go for a 'pub crawl' and try several of the bars/restaurants ranged around the lakeside, but we were recommended to Las Puertas which turned out to be so good that we just ate and drank there.
  Sunset in Flores, Guatemala.

Fri 16th Nov. We went for the day to Tikal, an amazing site of huge Mayan temple ruins spread over a large area of the rain forest, 60 km from Flores. As the book says: "Towering pyramids rise above the jungle canopy to catch the sun, howler monkeys swing through the branches of ancient trees". We climbed three of the tallest temples and looked out over a huge vista of jungle, with the peaks of pyramids sticking out, trying to imagine the scale of the city that must have surrounded them a thousand years ago. It was very atmospheric.
     Mayan Temples numbers one and two at Tikal, Guatemala.

  Temple tops rising above the jungle canopy at Tikal.

We were back in Flores before dark to start another round of eating and drinking. After refreshing cold lime juices and banana smoothies we graduated to a beer in a café by the lake to watch a wonderfully colourful sunset darken into night. Then we went further round the lakeshore to La Guacamaya restaurant to sit on a thatched wooden veranda over the floodlit lake, catching the cooling breezes as we sipped yet another beer and wrote postcards.

Sat 17th Nov. After a leisurely breakfast in yet another café by the lakeside, we got the 10 o'clock Maya Mundi bus to Guatemala City, 400 kms across the mountains. The bus was very luxurious; we were on the upper deck in the front seats with a panoramic view. There were two films on the 'in-flight entertainment' but the passing view was more interesting. They served us a lunch of hamburger and a cola as we went along.

Guatemala City was a sprawling, unattractive traffic jam when we arrived there at 6pm. We switched over to the minibus for Antigua, the old colonial capital of Guatemala, and it took us right to the door of the Cristal hotel, which was firmly closed and bolted! Only after much knocking and ringing of bells did a bleary-eyed night porter arrive to let us in (it was only 7:30pm!) We went to a restaurant in 4th Avenue South called Café Flor and had one of the best Thai meals ever - honey ginger chicken and Thai green curry beef, for about $20 including beers. Delicious.

As we came out of the restaurant we heard music coming from the main square. There, on a stage in front of the Cathedral, was a full concert orchestra with a choir and operatic soloists. As they played all the great classics a huge crowd in the square around the floodlit fountain applauded heartily. Finally, as the orchestra thundered out the 1812 Overture, coloured lights played across the Cathedral facade and a magnificent firework display went off. Amazing! I can not believe we're in Guatemala!

Sun 18th Nov. Today we went to a really colourful and bustling weekly market at Chichicastenango, about 2 hours from Antigua. Mayan families in colourful clothes were milling to and fro setting up stalls and buying things. At each end of the square the churches were full of candles and the air was thick with incense. It was great fun.

Colourful scenes in the market at Chichicastenango, Guatemala............

Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  
Chichicastenango market  

Chichicastenango market

Back in Antigua at dusk there was more music on the main square. At one side there was a military xylophone band, with two huge xylophones the size of pianos with 3 and 4 players each, plus a drummer and double bass. They were very good. In front of the Cathedral was a 5-piece Latino band, but they spent so long talking about each number before they played it that our attention wandered to food.

We had a starter at Café Flor - Vietnamese spring rolls plus Sangria, then soup and Choritzo sandwiches at the Cactus Mexican restaurant. All very good.

Mon 19th Nov. We spent the day strolling around the cobbled streets of Antigua in the bright sunshine, admiring the colonial houses and churches. This is where rich Guatemalans come for weekends away from the city. There are so many restaurants and hotels, which look small from the outside but have large, shady central courtyards surrounded by colonnaded walks, where you can sit and eat and drink, so we did. We had lunch at La Fonda de la Calle Real, delicious Mexican style starter and mixed grill, with sangria and red wine.

An archway in Antigua Guatemala.....
Antigua archway  
Antigua archway  

In the evening we went back there for another glass of sangria on our way to Café Flor for another wonderful Thai meal. We've tried most of the dishes on their menu now and they are all excellent. There was no music in the square tonight, but as if to make up for it a spectacular dry lightening storm played over the volcano to the south of town.

Tues 20th Nov. Honduras. We were up early for the 4am bus to Honduras and the Copan Mayan ruins, the second most extensive Mayan archaeological site (after Tikal). It was very impressive, with well-restored temples and plazas, and many more carvings and inscriptions than Tikal. Most of the carvings are of King 18 Rabbit (so called because his hieroglyph is the Mayan number 18 and a picture of a creature like a rabbit) who reigned from 695 to 738 AD and was responsible for many of the monumental buildings visible at Copan.
The Kings of Copan, passing the seal of authority to each other.
King 18 Rabbit's hieroglyph at Copan, Honduras.
  The sun emerging from the serpent's mouth, ready for another day of shining.

In the nearby village of Copan Ruinas we went to the Carnitas Nia Lola restaurant in the evening, intending to have a drink there and then try somewhere else. It was a really great place, with lots of atmosphere and a barbecue grill in the corner of the room; every so often the lady pumped up the coals with a huge fixed bellows beside it, and showers of sparks flew up and around the room. The whole place is made of wood with wooden furniture, wooden knicknacks like wagon wheels around for decoration and shelves of books and magazines - I've no idea why it hasn't gone up in flames! For a nearby large group the waitress brought 5 meals at a time, two on each arm and one balanced on her head, and for drinks orders she carried a bottle of beer to the table balanced on her head. We decided to stay a bit longer and have a 'starter' - a guacamole dip with nachos and it was the most tasty guacamole ever - it seemed to have lots of garlic and lemon in it so then we had another one. We were so impressed with the barbecue that we then had a huge kebab which was also the best ever - huge chunks of really tender beef, and side dishes of delicious coriander, onion and tomato salad and refried beans. Refried beans are usually bland and stodgy but these were really tasty, almost chocolatey. The place was packed, people were playing cards and dominoes, the house cat came and sat on a chair next to us, it was an extraordinary place.
  Sheila trying to burn the restaurant down!  (You have to read the text to understand why.)
  Main square in Copan Ruinas town, Honduras.

Wed 21st Nov. After a walk round the little town of Copan Ruinas, we had a long leisurely lunch back at the same place as last night, and had exactly the same meal, guacamole dip and a huge kebab (but without the beers). It was just as good. Then we got the bus back to Guatemala and arrived back at the Hotel Cristal in Antigua at 8pm.

Thurs 22nd Nov. Guatemala again. Another very pleasant day strolling around in the warm sun in Antigua. We went and visited Casa Popenoe, a beautifully-restored colonial mansion with period furniture and well-kept gardens. In a nearby square Mayan ladies sat in the shade of trees weaving wall hangings. They come in each day from surrounding villages and each have their allotted tree. Sheila commissioned a wall hanging to her precise specifications and the poor woman had to work late into the night to complete it.

Doorways and windows in a street in Antigua Guatemala.

An ornate church facade in Antigua.

We revisited our favourite eating and drinking places - Cactus restaurant for a chorizo & cheese sandwich for lunch, La Fonda de la Calle Real for pre-dinner sangria and a guacamole snack, then Café Flor for a Thai main course. Delicious.

One of the volcanos brooding over the town of Antigua Guatemala.

Fri 23rd Nov. El Salvador. We were up for the 5:30 shuttle bus to Guatemala City where we caught the 8am Comfort Lines coach to San Salvador. It was another luxury express coach with movies, snacks, air conditioning and a toilet. The crew completed the Guatemala - El Salvador border formalities for us and we arrived in the bus terminal about midday. On the next floor up in the departure area we bought our bus tickets on to Mangua, Nicaragua, paid by credit card, then we went up one more floor to check into the International Hotel; not bad and very convenient for our 5am departure tomorrow.

We had a 2-hour taxi tour round San Salvador city centre, looking at the main squares and walking round the huge, bustling market. There was no sign of any other travellers or tourists but everyone was very friendly and seemed pleased to see us. In the evening we took the easy option and had a pleasant drink and a meal at the El Cheff restaurant on yet another floor of the hotel/bus station building.
  In the central market, San Salvador.

Sat 24th Nov. Nicaragua. Had a 12-hour bus trip across three countries. We left San Salvador at 5:30 and crossed to the other end of El Salvador, then straight across part of Honduras into Nicaragua, and arrived in Managua at dusk.

We then had the only major hassle of the trip - with a taxi driver of course. The crowd of taxi drivers around the bus terminal wanted $25 to take us to Grenada, a town about an hour away. They negotiated down to $20, then one of them accepted $15, grabbed our cases and we were in his taxi. We hadn't gone very far when he started trying to re-negotiate, saying it was $25, or else $15 per person. We had a long debate at some traffic lights while the traffic ebbed and flowed around us, and in the end he took us to a nearby bus station where minibuses go to Granada. Here again we had a row because he was demanding $5 for the really short ride and we just gave him a token $1 because we were cross. After much gesticulating he called a police car over and we had the debate again with them - all of this with no common language because neither the taxi driver nor the police spoke English. Eventually a lady who was selling bags of water to the people in the bus queue acted as mediator in broken English, and rather than spend a night in jail we agreed on $3. Sheila threw it on the ground, much to the amusement of the crowd in the bus queue who applauded, she took a bow and we also joined the queue for the bus.

Eventually we crammed into one of the minibuses and got the ride to Grenada for $1. There they dropped us at the main square and we walked down the main hotel street looking for somewhere to stay. This was our second shock because all the hotels were full - it's now high season and the weekend and people were arriving for some sort of convention next week. We finally found a room at El Maltese guest house right at the far end of the street by the lake, run by a lovely Italian couple and a very nice room, but right next door to a pounding disco (only at the weekends).

We went back to the Central, the first guest house we'd tried and also the main gathering place for travellers and ex-pats, and drank beer and chatted with the people there until midnight. Many of the people we spoke to had been travelling through Grenada and been so enchanted by it that they had settled down to live there. They were planning to buy bars or guest houses or just a plot of land to build a house. It seems like a lovely place.

Sun 25th Nov. We went with Jane, Don and Jeff (who we met at the Central café) to the town of Catarina about half an hour from Grenada. Today is the town's saint's day so they were having a big festival with fireworks, processions, bands and funfairs for the kids.
  Religious procession through the streets of Catarina, Nicaragua.

We started at the top of the town where there is a fantastic view from the rim of an extinct volcano, across a lake within the volcanic crater to the town of Granada on its lake-shore far below. Then we walked down the street past flower stalls and gardens selling all sorts of exotic plants (while physically restraining Sheila from buying them all) to the town square and the Cathedral, where a colourful confirmation service was going on and everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. There was a band playing outside the office of the FSLN, the political party of the Sandinistas, and one of the musicians was wearing a tee shirt with the US flag on it! The USA was more or less at war with the Sandinistas until ten years ago. There was lots happening inside the offices so Sheila went to investigate and found that in a yard at the back they were cooking up big pots of food, to provide meals for the party workers. She soon became an honorary party worker and ended up having lunch with the Sandinistas!
  A band playing at the headquarters of the Sandinistas (the FSLN party).  Note the US Flag on the drummer's tee-shirt!

We walked around the town watching everyone having a good time, and down a side street we found a big wooden archway which was completely decorated with flowers and fruit, all across the roof and up the supporting pillars. A small xylophone band struck up and pairs of little children in elaborate Spanish-style costumes danced flamenco dances with great seriousness and precision. We followed some other crowds down the street and found that they were gathering where a rickety circular wooden grandstand had been constructed, inside which were some cattle. We were wondering what was going on when a band struck up and the bulls began pacing around restlessly, so we realised that it was probably a bullfight and beat a hasty retreat.
  Decorated archway in Catarina.

Back in the main square we all sat in one of the food stalls and had several beers and a tasty kebab. We put off our taxi driver for a couple of hours and stayed in the square drinking beer in the dusk as another band started up and people were dancing, children playing happily and everyone was having a great time.
  Don't eat the Ice Cream and never buy food from street vendors.  Won't she ever learn?

Eventually we dragged ourselves back to Grenada and Jane showed us round the old colonial house that she and Margaret were renting. It was wonderful with lofty ceilings held up by wooden pillars, and the internal courtyard was part of the vast main living room, so that inside and outside were combined into one cool airy living space. Finally we all went for an excellent fish meal at El Zaguan restaurant which Jane had recommended.

Mon 26th Nov. We went on the Rain Forest Canopy tour with Don and Jeff. After driving up into the hills for an hour on a truly terrible road, we arrived at the tour headquarters where they dressed us up in tackle with harnesses, pulleys, hard hats and thick gloves, then we walked into the forest and climbed a ladder up a large tree to a platform. It wasn't quite as high up as I'd expected but it was still pretty high. Then we slid and swung across a series of eight rappels and rope walks and up another ladder before abseiling to the ground. It was great fun but we didn't see any wild life up in the canopy, only heard some howler monkeys off in the distance.
   I never believed that I would do this!

To get back to the headquarters we all got on some rather tired horses and walked through the coffee plantation while the guide explained all the different types of coffee, ending up at the shed where they weigh and dry coffee beans then sort them into three different grades of quality. The poorest beans go to make instant coffee.

That evening we had a curry at the Central, which was disappointing after the excellent ginger garlic chicken we had there the other night.

Tues 27th Nov. In the morning we had a pleasant couple of hours walking around old Granada town and the market, and having a huge brunch at the Nica Buffet which included Sheila's favourite, wonderful blueberry pancakes with ice cream, honey and lemon juice.
    In the old town of Granada, Nicaragua.

In the afternoon we went for a boat ride round Las Isletas. About twenty thousand years ago the nearby volcano exploded and blew masses of rock into Lake Nicaragua, which formed 365 islands and islets. We spent an idyllic couple of hours cruising along the channels between islands covered in lush tropical vegetation and bird life, each island crowned either by a millionaire's mansion or a couple of squatters' shacks.

In the evening we had some beers and garlic bread at the Central, chatting to people we know - we seem to have met so many people here, Jane and Margaret into property speculation, Doug a middle-aged hippy of no visible occupation who seems to have enough money to enable him to travel around the Americas, the couple (American and Nicaraguan) who run the Nica Buffet, Bill who runs the Central itself, and various other people who stopped by. The whole expat community of Grenada seems to congregate here.

When we felt we really shouldn't drink any more beer we went down the street to the restaurant, which despite its trendy name seemed to cater as much to locals as tourists. We had a tasty beef kebab, cooked on a barbecue on the street in front of the restaurant, with plantains and coleslaw. Then back to the hotel for an early night.

Wed 28th Nov. Costa Rica. We caught the 7am Nica bus from Granada to San José, Costa Rica. So far all our border crossings had been pretty straightforward and at some the bus conductress collected the passports and did the formalities for us. However, the Nicaragua - Costa Rica border was pretty chaotic on both sides, busy, disorganised and slow. The whole process took nearly two hours but eventually the bus set off again and we arrived in San José at 3:30pm.

San José. We had a short walk around the city centre and then a slap-up meal at the Café Parisienne in front of the Grand Hotel Costa Rica, sitting by one of the main squares in the city centre watching the world go by. We had palm heart cocktail to start, followed by filet mignon and sea bass Hollandaise. Not cheap, but delicious.

Thurs 29th Nov. In the morning we did a walking tour of San José. We started with breakfast at the Café Parisienne, ham & cheese sandwiches and strong coffee while we watched the world go by again, then walked in the warm sunshine around Central Park, the Cathedral and the National Theatre. Then we did a couple of touristy things - first the Serpentarium, full of poisonous snakes & frogs and lizards & crocodiles, all safely in glass cases. Then the well-laid out Jade museum, on the 11th floor of a high-rise block, where there were lots of prehistoric jade artifacts and decorations and details of how they were worked. After posting our postcards at the Central Post Office we finished off at the municipal market where we had delicious cinnamon ice cream at the Las Delicias coffee stall.

At 1 pm we caught the Panaline bus to Panama. About 7pm we arrived at the frontier which was a most peculiar affair. It was like a small town, and in one street was a little office for Costa Rican emigration, where you buy a stamp from a lady standing nearby, then take it to a window where they stick it in your passport and stamp it. Then you walk across town to the Panamanian immigration office where you buy another stamp at a window, take it to another window and they stick it in and stamp it. Then there is time for a meal, at the restaurant near the first office, before you go back to the Panamanian customs office where the bus arrives, they unload your luggage and you have to take it through a room where the customs officers poke about with it a bit, then you load it back on the bus.

The air conditioning on the bus was turned up much too high and we were freezing. All the local passengers seemed to know, and brought warm clothes and blankets with them.

Fri 30th Nov. Panama. The bus drove through the night and just after dawn we saw the impressive Bridge of the Americas on the outskirts of Panama City. We drove over the bridge and there on one side was the Panama Canal and on the other side was the Pacific Ocean! So we have crossed the continent, from the Atlantic/Caribbean in Cancun and Belize to the Pacific here. We have also travelled the full length of Central America from Mexico to Panama, because Panama is more or less the end of the road - the Eastern part of the country to the border with Colombia is effectively impassable, because the 'Darien Gap' has jungle and no roads, but plenty of bandits.

We had a nice breakfast of smoked salmon bagels at the 'Café Café' on the Promenade, then spent the morning making arrangements - trying to change our flights, booking a bus back to San José and trying to change travellers cheques, which wasn't easy because most banks won't take them, and in the process we had a taxi tour of most of modern Panama City.
  Panama is a high-rise city.

In the afternoon we walked around the old town of Panama City, full of historic buildings, including the President's palace which is just on a side street overlooking the fishing harbour. He seemed to be in residence because there were a lot of soldiers present and they had to radio ahead to warn more soldiers we were coming before we could walk down the street.
  In the old town of Panama are the ruins of ancient monasteries.  The archway behind this doorway has stood for centuries.  It was taken as evidence that there are no earthquakes in Panama, and this is why they built the canal where it is.

For dinner we decided to try a wild-west style steak restaurant that we saw advertised in a magazine. After a half-hour taxi ride we got there and found it was closed because the whole mall had been bought by real-estate developers. So we spent another half an hour coming all the way back a more scenic way, with a wonderful view of the city from one of the hills, and went to La Cascada on the Avenue Balboa, the seafront road in the centre of the city. La Cascada is a huge garden that takes up half a block, with each table surrounded by real plants, fake animals and recorded bird song. The menu is also huge, in fact it's so big that there's a page of suggestions at the front on where to look for different types of dishes, as well as what to do if the waitress is slow or rude, how they buy and prepare their fish and other restaurants to go to if this one is closed! The meals are pretty big too and tasty, and we had pepper steak, jumbo prawns and a huge jug of real Sangria.

Sat 1st Dec. We went sightseeing to the Panama Canal. The first set of locks at Miraflores is a $5 taxi ride from the city so we went and had a look at the visitors' centre there. We saw two different short films about the canal (one of which included a full transit of the canal, speeded up from 8 hours to 5 minutes!) and stood on the viewing platform to look at the huge locks. Part of the canal operates a one-way system because it is too narrow for the biggest boats to pass, so they tend to go through the locks in 'batches' in each direction. The next ones weren't due for a couple of hours so we got a taxi to the Causeway, a strip of land (built with earth dug from the canal) linking some small islands to the mainland. Along the causeway are a few restaurants so we had lunch there, with a wonderful view of the ships queueing for the canal on one side and the bay with Panama City on the other.
  Teenagers' outing to the Causeway, to take in the view of Panama City.

Back at Miraflores we watched two enormous container ships transit down the locks. The sheer size of them is overwhelming, they towered over the visitor's centre like skyscrapers and are 300 yards long. They are eased gently into position by electric engines on tracks at the side of the locks which stop them scraping along the sides. These ships are 30 yards wide and they only have inches of clearance at either side.
  A tight fit in the Panama Canal.

In the evening we went for another walk along the pedestrian shopping part of Central Avenue, which was bustling with market stalls and people extolling their wares over loudspeakers. Finally we went back to La Cascada restaurant for another huge meal, and walked back to the hotel from there for a bit of exercise.

Sun 2nd Dec. We weren't able to alter our flights so we've got to go back to San José to fly back to London. We got the midday Panaline bus, crossed the canal again over the Bridge of the Americas and had a 'sightseeing tour' of the Panamanian countryside as we drove along the InterAmericana route 1. The border was even more slow and chaotic than last time. All the Costa Ricans had been on weekend shopping trips to Panama where everything is cheaper, and they were loaded down with boxes and bags that all had to be checked twice by customs. On the Panamanian side this involved a sniffer dog, and on the Costa Rican side it involved pulling all the clothes out of people's bags and spreading them about like a jumble sale. The whole thing took over three hours.

Mon 3rd Dec. Costa Rica again. We arrived back in San José about 5am. Again the overnight bus wasn't too bad - we didn't get very much sleep but it was comfortable. All the other journeys were during the daytime but Panama - San José is too long to do in daylight.

For our last day in Cost Rica we started with brunch at Café Parisienne. There was a ceremony going on in the square which we gathered was the inauguration of a new scooter squadron of the police. The president of Costa Rica turned up, arriving in a normal saloon car with one 4WD vehicle as escort and very low-key security, and made a lengthy speech.

Then we strolled around the shops in the sunshine. Despite some concentrated browsing Sheila didn't find anything to buy. For dinner we returned to Café Parisienne yet again and this time there was a stage set up in the square and there were a series of musical performances - a choir, then a band, and so on, but none of them were particularly outstanding. However, the meal was excellent as usual.

Tue - Wed 4th & 5th Dec. Flew back to London via Miami and Madrid. As we took off from San José on our scheduled Iberian flight, the captain announced that there was an excellent view of the volcano today as it was clear of clouds, so he flew once round it as we gained height and we had a wonderful view of the greenish lake in the volcanic crater.

We spent our last cash on a hot dog at Miami airport and arrived home with exactly $2.25 in our pockets.

A car-full of broccoli!  Antigua Guatemala.

To read about our other travels, click here: earth