How time flies! I cannot believe we are now 20 episodes deep into The Travel Bug. It’s been such a great ride from Dave’s initial trip to this post in Las Vegas and Costa Rica!
A quick recap: In the last travel blog, Dave went travelling all over Turkey, one of his favourite destinations. There were mosques, markets, the Basilica Cistern, the Cappadocia desert, Red Valley walk, Olympos and Ephesus. And for good measure, he even managed to sneak in a game of Soccer. The man clearly had an adventure and a half!
This time around, Dave hits Vegas once again! Clearly he enjoyed his first trip to Vegas all those episodes ago. Dave also goes bananas through Costa Rica, enjoying scenic views (volcanos, canopy walks, mangroves and more), interacting with local wildlife and horsing around the forest (but there’s a hilarious catch!).
There is a very human side to this post too as Dave reveals the effects of travelling and backpacking around the world through his introductory bio. It’s an insightful piece that certainly needs to be considered by all travellers.
And so without further ado, let’s go and BUG
n.b. All hyperlinks in the post are now underlined and will change colour once you hover over them. Categories and Tags are not underlined but will change colour on hover.
Well reader, you don’t know this but it’s been a few years since my last trip, so I thought that I’d fill you in as to where I was at before we launch into the next and last of my travel writings.
Upon return from around the world, I owed around $30k. My situation financially as well as career was at yet another crossroads, much like when I returned from the UK, travelling Oz and my most recent trip. Fortunately for me, I had some very good friends who let me stay with them until I could get a job and back on my feet.
If you don’t know already I work in Superannuation as a technical systems analyst, not the most thrilling of industries, I suppose it’s one reason for loving travel a lot.
My first few months back in Oz I went into the familiar pattern of getting a contract job with all intention of taking another year off when I had paid my debt off.
Unfortunately I was in my late 30’s and despite my thirst for adventure, reality was kicking in, I had no mortgage, no permanent job and no money, so it was time to make some changes.
I still haven’t managed to settle down with a girlfriend or an accidental wife and kids, usually this is the death of any sustained travel adventure. I did, however, start thinking of a permanent job, which I managed to gain after 6 months of contracting. Fortunately, my new employer was good enough to let me purchase and bank my annual leave, this was negotiated by myself and the company so not just pure luck, but fortunate all the same.
Two years of paying off debt and patiently waiting, it was time for yet another adventure. The extended adventures for a year or years were no longer affordable so I found a happy enough medium, a 3-month holiday for which I’d saved two years of leave.
I was ready to go, it’s now 2012 and I’m off to the USA, Canada and Central America.
Las Vegas – Sin City
The first place on my mini-adventure was Las Vegas, “Sin City” the city is completely insane, Disneyland Land for adults, and it’s a total load of fun. I had been here previously but this time I was not backpacking. I took a cab down to Fremont street, the old part of Vegas, I was staying at the Golden Nugget. It’s apparently the best hotel in the old part of town and I believe I’d have to agree, upon arrival the reception upgraded me to a suite free of charge.
Staying in luxury hotels was a new thing for me as usually when travelling it was hostels and cheap accommodation only. As I was currently employed and on a much shorter trip than I was used to, splurging on luxuries such my own hotel room was now part of the course.
After checking in, I found something to eat, played a few rounds of video game poker, whilst playing poker I was provided free beer which is common in Las Vegas. I am not a gambler but if I was obligated to gamble to get the free beer that is then what I would do, please note it’s not entirely free as tips were expected.
The first few days
I spent all day asleep, the flight the day before had taken it out of me and the Hawaiian airport transit was very annoying, the Hawaiian airport has to be the most chaotic airport I’d been too. That night I caught up with a friend and we checked out the Fremont street experience. Unfortunately, the show had changed from “The Wall” a few years back to Bon Jovi show, despite this the blackening of lights and the music booming is quite a surreal experience. The whole street is affected.After a few really cheap beers (Fremont street is a lot cheaper than the strip), we headed to the strip. This involved pub crawling through several casinos, watching flame cocktail barmen at the Carnival Court and then an all you can drink nightclub at Planet Hollywood for around $30. Ended up in New York New York by the end of it and got back to my hotel at around 5 am.
The following day I transferred from the Nugget to the Paris, a four-star casino on the strip. This was quite a cumbersome process as I suspect I was still drunk from earlier in the morning, but luckily upon arrival they let me check in, the room was excellent and I had great views of the Las Vegas strip. Again I spent most of the day in bed, got myself a nice steak down at Bills casino and then took in the water display at the Bellagio casino and explored a few of the casinos. I turned in early as I figured if I was going to take a look around the Strip during the day so I would need my sleep.
Today’s show: The Running Man
I wandered around more of the casinos on the strip; I noticed walking through the Flamingo at around 8 in the morning, there were lots of people gambling, these people were dedicated. Another thing to note is there never seems to be any fighting anywhere and that there are also hardly any bouncers guarding doors. That’s not to say there aren’t any plenty of police, I I even saw what I suspect was the filming of an episode of Cops, cameras and cars everywhere.
I then headed to the Imperial casino, it was a complete dump compared to the other casinos and featured “Human Nature” as their lead show, and this did nothing to improve my opinion of the place. However, they had an exhibition of American Muscle cars so was keen to take a look, there were lots of cars on show, which were also for sale.
I then decided to hit more of the casinos in the evening, ended up chatting with endless people including New Zealand motorbike gang members and my first cowboy, also lots of friendly women (who loved my accent) and then I ended up in the Court again.
I believe I was pretty inebriated by the end of it, I must have been as I ended up having a “Battle” (dance off running man style) with some random guy on the dance floor.
I believe I won….
Leaving Las Vegas
The next day again I spent the majority of time in bed, I think it’s important that you get a good room in Vegas as quite often you will spend a lot of time in there, especially after regrettably Battling with people on the floor.
Las Vegas is also rather stinky and hot and not very attractive by daylight, so unless you are going to a National Park somewhere you are best off experiencing the nightlife. During my rest, I noticed that American TV advertising seems to be focused on various medications and if it’s not promoting new medications, its lawyers advertising to the general public about suing companies the prescribed bad medication. This is probably due to the rampant smoking and drinking taking part in Vegas and all the associated psychological problems. I then joined a casino loyalty program which discounted everything quite significantly, these also included cigarettes which only cost about $7 a pack. Everyone seems to be smoking however, this seems to be hard to notice in the huge casinos pumping in oxygen 24/7 keeping gamblers and drunks awake longer than they should be, I turned in early.
That’s it for Vegas, neglected to take photos and didn’t go to one of the spectacular nightclubs that are world-renowned nor did I gamble much. However despite the sleeping there are a lot of things to do. There are the national parks surrounding the city such as the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the Hoover Dam which I had seen previously. There is also golf, machine guns, smoking, drinking, shows, strip bars and other activities. The reason to come here is the nightlife and the quality of casino service, Disney for Adults. It was now time for some backpacking however and off to a country I had not been to before…
Unfortunately, I was held over in Denver for 5 hours and arrived in Costa Rica at 5 in the morning, waiting on my airport transfer to La Fortuna which was due at 9. After having no sleep (please note, staying in Las Vegas will never assist with jet lag) I randomly met a fellow traveller from Bondi and spent the next 3 hours drifting in and out of sleep until the bus transport arrived .
The trip did not take too long (Cost Rica is small) and the hostel I stayed at was quite impressive including a swimming pool and I even had my own tent. The staff were most friendly and I managed to finally get some food and some sleep in a hammock by the pool, I cannot overstate how awesome a hammock is, I am buying several hammocks and bringing them back to Australia.
After my siesta, I had several beers with my fellow traveller and met a few more travellers, a young German backpacker and an ex-Vietnam vet with loads of stories. The vet took us to one of the local bars, met a load of locals and didn’t get home till quite late…
I woke up around midday, quite hung over and it was quite humid, so I again met my best friend the hammock and had another siesta. I also managed to get myself sunburnt which is a novel experience for me and as I usually don’t burn. After dealing with that booked my first tour. This involved a jungle walk to the Arenal Volcano through some very spectacular jungle.
The Volcano itself is an amazing site and we also saw Lake Atitlan. After our tour we then headed off to the Baldi Springs, a high quality resort with several thermally heated pools from the volcano, and some seriously scary water slides that my Bondi traveller mate coerced me into enduring. The resort also included an all you can eat buffet which in backpacker land means eat eat and eat.
The Blancas River
The next day was another tour, this time canoeing down the Blancas River. Quite a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, the guide was very good and pointed out a lot of local wildlife.
Unfortunately my crappy camera does not reflect truly how diverse the wildlife is, a huge variety of birds, howler monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, lizards and a domesticated pig. After the trip we even saw a 2 toed sloth, apparently very rate, I suspect this most likely due to it crawling across power lines though it did not manage to electrocute itself.
The following day I was heading to Montverde, this was about 4 hours by bus from La Fortuna or about 5 hours by boat and horse, I decided to take the boat and horse.
This involved a boat trip across Lake Atitlan to where our horses were waiting, and then around 3 hours by horse to where our taxi waited for myself and my Bondi mate to take us to Montverde. The ride itself was quite spectacular, the horse itself a bit of a nag at 15 hands high and not able to go above a trot.
Upon arriving at our taxi pick up point and being appearing well versed in horse riding, I sat down and my jeans ripped in half straight up the seam.
I spent the next few hours in a rather compromised way till reaching the hostel at Montverde. I spent the day shopping for new jeans and having a few beers, this did not take long as they town was very small.
Flora and Fauna
The next morning I wanted to see some local wildlife which Cost Rica is famed for, so I headed to the Montverde Canopy forest walk. The Canopy Walk involved around 6km circuit, this also involved a $30 dollar cover charge to walk the suspension bridges at the top of the jungle canopy which by my standards in Latin American terms is very expensive.
The walk was amazing and included 8 suspension bridges, the walk itself was at the canopy level; however I had no luck in spotting any local animals.
Upon return it was apparent to do any of the other associated activities such as the lizard enclosure, would cost more money. Declining to do this my Bondi mate and I jumped on the local bus and headed off to the Sky forest; this involved a $17 cover charge. Costa Rica was already much more expensive than South America. I was very happy that we did that, the forest rises right into the clouds (so the name was literal) and whilst I can confirm clouds do not taste like marsh mellows, it was quite damp and cold.
The forest was almost eerie, I was expecting the grinch or some type of vampire to jump out and nab me, the forest also had a much cheaper suspension bridge and I did finally get to see an animal in the wild, some sort of anteater thing as well as spider monkeys and a crab. That night was the last with my Bondi and German travelling friends, we had dinner at one of the world’s weirdest restaurants, it had a rather large tree growing through it, we then a few drinks at a pub that involved some really awful karaoke.
The next day jumped on a bus to Manuel Antonio, a scheduled 3-hour bus ride that instead took around 6. Most of the day was therefore lost to me when I arrived at the hostel, so upon arrival instead of heading to the beach, I hit the hostel pool instead. Lots of hostels in Costa Rica seem to have swimming pools.
I met a few backpackers at the hostel and headed out to dinner, a couple of Israel girls and an American guy. This involved some pleasant conversations about Israel and Australia and not so interesting conversations about the American and his amazing skills at everything. [Editor note: I’m sure this guy was an exception. He might have had a few already.]
After a very tasty dinner, we headed to a local bar where I was challenged to a game of pool by the self-proclaimed “best player from the USA”. I kicked his arse and we then headed back to the hostel and I went to sleep very pleased with myself.
I was heading off on the Mangrove swamp tour the following day and possibly the National or park or beach if…… I could get my bum out of a hammock..
The Mangrove Tour
So I managed to leave the hammock and headed out on my mangrove tour. I was a little disappointed, but then again how interesting can mangroves actually be??
I was hoping to see lots of animals which was not the case. There was great highlight, however (not learning about mangroves) and that was my first encounter with White-Face monkeys.
The tour leader has the uncanny ability to call them over, to our canal boat, subsequently a monkey climbed on top of my head, it was pretty cool though secretly I was concerned it might do its business on top of my head.
That afternoon I headed down to look at the Manual Antonio National park, basically a park with several beaches and loads of wildlife. I struck some luck with my animal watching, the beaches were amazing, and a series of coves connected by the forest, and the water was amazingly clear and warm.
I also encountered more white-faced monkeys, then a troop of squirrel monkeys and then another sloth. That evening shared some dinner and drinks at the hostel before retiring to some TV and sleep.
The last few days
My last few days in Costa Rica involved saying goodbye to my Israeli friends, watching the FA Cup final and heading down to the national park for some rays.
I saw plenty of more white-faced monkeys, they liked to come out of the trees and started nabbing any food the tourists couldn’t keep their hands on.
On the trip back to San Jose, I saw some alligators in a river thrashing around. I also spoke to an American couple, I had met lots of Americans in the areas, apparently Costa Rica is a fantastic place to retire as its very cheap to buy into Costa Rica’s health care system (who knew??).
When I arrived in San Jose I did not see much there, I swam in the hotel pool, ate some food and went to sleep I was flying off to Guatemala the next morning….
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished right here in Costa Rica. We’ll be back soon in the Guatemala!
He just completed another world trip and is bound to share his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.