John and Sheila's bus ride through Central America
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
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
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.
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............
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
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
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
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 Asadero.com 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
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: