Expect the unexpected in the jungle – monkeys don’t perform and don’t appear to order. Birds do surprising things. The screeching Montezuma oriole does somersaults on his branch showing off to the girls and toucans sound like frogs. Red frogs and kingfishers don’t wait for photographers. The endangered jaguar finds nesting turtles a delicacy. It’s a precarious balance here. Fifty years ago the jungle was being logged. Today Torguguero has a chance with tourism and at least there is now a medical clinic. The delicate environment here is threatened with plans for a new highway through the jungle, bringing the risk of mass tourism, pollution and destruction of the very thing we come to see: raw nature. None of the locals want it, except the (very few) land owners who will make a fortune. The same the world over. Some talk of bribery and corruption. Who knows.
Storm in the night, heavy rain then howler monkeys for an early morning alarm call. At 5.15! On the water for our ‘cruise’ at 7.30 and into Tortuguero National Park. Brown water full of nutrients helps feed everything. Including logs that blink at you. Then you realise, a caiman. The green verdant trees blend into the waters edge, and eveywhere life is just teeming. Howler monkeys hang out with spider monkeys, and herons are trying to catch lunch. Bugs find theirs on our legs. As hard as Paul tries the elusive kingfisher defeats him, still. A hangover from Sri Lanka. One day…
Lunch back at the lodge was fab, then a wander into Tortuguero town, or rather small backpacker village. So glad tourists are able to give enough money to make it worthwhile for the locals not to kill everything and plant pineapples. Tasted home made chocolate from local cocoa, and learnt how they do it. Sticky walk back along 4km of deserted volcanic beach with the Caribbean rollers producing the sound track to our stay here. Amazing that anything can rise above the wave noise. But, gosh, they do. Hot, humid but everywhere it is just dripping life.
Tomorrow 6am walk in the jungle. Lots of mozzy spray needed.
Well, our first 24 hours on Costa Rican soil. So far, well, actually, er, bloody amazing! Flight was OK. At least direct. BA ‘Rubbish class’ was a bit grim. The av stuff in flight did a but no v and the food was at best OK. But on time and no drones. Good enough!
A slight mix up with how we actually made it to our first hotel. First one just a place to crash. Fine but available in every town and city all over the world. And a slight mix up how we were going to get to our second. But sooooo worth it! Tortuga Lodge is the sort of place that you dream of. Idyllic was a word invented for here. Soft wave noise, so much wildlife, great food, no cars, only accessible by boat and very few people. Fab. Worth the journey.
A walk in the ‘garden’ (30 acres of secondary rain forest!) and these photos. Loads of flying things. Some birds but mainly mozzies. Totally glorious.
End of day one!
Tomorrow a ‘cruise’. 4 of us in an open boat going into the national park. Yea!
My class of wine calls. Tough life.
We are waking up the Paul and Linda cycle blog. A bit confusing, as no cycling. But, Paul and Linda carry on!…..Travel around Costa Rica, looking at birds, bugs and things that bite. Sounds totally fab! And a bit more luxurious than our last trip. We hope.
Expect lots of photos.
The trip starts in 73 days!
Thank you Imagine Travel.
Our thoughts on kit, to follow. What shoes, jackets, trousers, the options are serious. Any help gratefully received!
Paul and Linda
Ha Long bay. For some people the whole reason for going to Vietnam. UNESCO world heritage sight. Some people go to Halong Bay for the day. A 4 hour bus ride,as much fun as root canal work with no local anaesthetic. 4 hours around the bay, and then repeat the dental work. The area is huge, beautiful, quiet and needs exploring. 4 hours just is, well, crazy. We opted for a 3 day, 2 night aboard the Halong Phoenix Cruiser. In between sort of weather. A few days ago the area was covered in mist, and it would have been difficult to see much at all. We had mostly dry but rather grey, none of the bright sunshine in the adverts. Still, the scenery is spectacular with the vast limestone rocks rearing up out of the sea. Ha Long means ‘Dragon teeth’, or, rather, it may mean that. Our guide thought that loads of things meant all sorts of stuff. Sounds good, though. There are vast stalactite and stalagmite caves to visit, along with all the other tourists. Would be easy to spend longer and take some time to look around the largest island, Cat Ba.
It’s all very orderly in the Bay with all the cruisers and ferries stopping in the same places. Off-piste is strictly forbidden. However, with a kayak, we were able to explore the hidden coves and lagoons, away from the boats. We did manage one lunch with not another boat in sight, well away from the crowds. Exceptionally quiet and peaceful. We were amazed to see some wild monkeys. Maybe macaque monkeys. Our guide wasn’t sure. On Cat Ba they do have langurs, but are very rare and endangered. We were keen to support their conservation project.
Treated to some very good food with lots of fresh squid. Paul tried to catch some. Failed, but had a bit of fun with synchronised fishing with three Germans.
Would love to revisit the area again for even longer. Ideally when the sun is out and 10 degrees warmer.
Our train was better than we thought it might be. Good chat with Arturo, bottle of wine and a pretty good night’s sleep. Even better, when we arrived in Hanoi, only 1/2 hour to get our bikes, in good condition and hadn’t been knicked. Phew! Happy Paul and Linda.
Then to our old friends at Hong Ngoc Hotel, wander around Fine Art’s museum and met up with Simon and Ha for supper, times 2. Thank you both for your hospitality. Great to see you.
Then to Halong bay tomorrow.
The day started with some sadness, or rather anxiety. We are planning on a train journey back to Hanoi, some 550km. The bikes have to go on a separate train, or at least in the guards carriage. We have to trust the Vietnam Railway. Hmmm. Not sure this is a wise / good idea, but most people say it should be no problem. Admittedly, these are usually Vietnam Railway employees, and they don’t actually speak english other than to say ‘No problem’. We will see.
Back to the hotel for breakfast and pack up. We left the trip around the Imperial Citadel for today, although neither of us have much energy for another old building, especially as it’s not that old. 1820’s at the earliest.
Having arrived there it was interesting. The Emperor was treated as god. The whole building complex, which is huge, was devoted to his pleasure. Housing for 104 wives, more concubines, eunuchs and officials. A grand place, but we kept comparing with Angkor Wat, even though we really tried not to. Angkor was over 1,000 years older and seemed to have more magic about it. Glad we saw it, as it represented the most powerful dynasty in Vietnam from around 1820 to 1945. Doesn’t surprise us that there was a revolution.
Nice lunch, and Paul decided it was too hot and had a haircut. Always interesting having haircuts in different countries. This one was 40mins, of which 25 mins was a head massage. Great fun, although the results are, um, a bit Vietnamese. They will grow out.
Supper was lovely but the food took for ever to arrive. A bit stressful as we needed to buy important food for the train journey. A bottle of wine.
Boarded the train, found our sleeper carriage, and better than expected. Clean, comfortable, a bit slow, but all good. We hope our bikes are being treated as well.
Met Arthuro, Mexican travelling around on his bike for a year. Jealous, although $20/ day might be a bit little for us. Finished the wine, sleep and hope tomorrow is kind to our bikes.
Happy Birthday Linda!! xx
A birthday in Vietnam. Pretty special. Took the bikes out for a little tour around the temples dotted around out of town alongside the Perfume River. Nice name for a river, but not accurate. Sun shining and a glorious day, if a little humid.
Discovered the large market selling anything and everything and after some firm bartering from Paul, managed to spend many thousands of dong on a crap lacoste copy shirt for him and a flimsy half a dress for Linda. Our posh togs for a birthday night out on the town.
Back in time for massages at the hotel. First massage on our trip and jolly nice too. Paul’s neck, back and shoulders sent him to sleep. An hour massage is never long enough, especially when it only costs around £15.
Dinner at Le Jardin de la Carambole, next door to the Imperial Palace, in a French colonial building. For a french restaurant, unusual that the menu listed pizza and pasta as well as vietnamese and western food. Opted for the vietnamese beef steak in peppercorn sauce with fries. Great detail with the use of garlic on top of the veggies. Very yummy. Wine an unusual treat.
We managed to be outrageously overcharged for a cyclo ride back to our hotel. We even knew at the time, but it was such fun, and as cyclists, we felt a bit of empathy towards the cyclo rider.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to our trusted bikes. They have been great. Hope we don’t loose them.
Top marks to Orange Hotel. Only a 3 star but really nice little touches, like, astonishingly, complimentary beers. Wow. Really comfy bed, always appreciated and the most attentive, friendly and helpful staff ever. We were recommended a great local Thai restaurant and to hang out downtown to see the dragon bridge breathe fire. Danang is an interesting town, definitely on the up with its smart riverfront and lots of coffee shops.
Headed for the Hai Van pass. A 10 km, 500 m climb up and 10 km down. We had anticipated it to be harder based on reviews we had read. It does give the most glorious views of the coastline below as you wind your way up the beautifully noiseless road. Cars and buses take the tunnel, thank goodness. As we slowly pedalled up we sort of expected the smell of wild thyme or mint? Pine trees? Maybe exotic lemongrass? No. The all pervasive smell from the common pastime of peeing on the side of the road. Took the edge off it. Probably better after a good rainstorm.
A great route, down the hill and off the awful Highway 1 onto the coastal road, skirting around the lagoons and peninsular of land. Quiet and lovely. And, more and more tombs in the sand. They go on forever. There are more dead than alive here. And they take up so much space.
Finally, we understand about the loud bird calls from the concrete buildings. There is fierce competition to attract the salanganes, a local swift-like bird that builds its nest from saliva. The nests command $1,000 per kilo. Historically, the nests are collected from the steep sides of the islands off-shore, accessed from bamboo scaffolding towers. Hazardous. A young Vietnamese graduate having studied the birds, came up with the design of the concrete house. It has been hugely successful and without any current legislation, it appears that residents in town are attaching towers to their homes then turning up the volume for the bird calls. Very lucrative.
Have to say that the approach to Hue was disappointing. Had anticipated another Hoi An, which is delightful. maps.me and Paul’s dexterity manipulating his phone whilst cycling took us to the door of The Serene Shining Hotel after our last full day of cycling on this trip. Feel quite sad.
A gentle day, only 25Km needed so we decided to have lunch at An Bang beach before our fairly brief bike ride. We needed one more fix of Hoi An’s coffee house so a brief wander around looking for nice coffee. Too many to choose, but settled on a great place. Same as yesterday, in fact. Met a nice Dutch chap, who promised us that his next trip would be on a bike. Great to inspire the next generation. Linda bought our only physical souvenir so far – 4 small paintings. Hope they survive the trip home.
Cycled the coast strip to Da Nang. We are getting used to great white beaches, partially developed massive resorts and topiary. This trip was a bit different as many of the resorts were actually finished. Some names we recognised, Sheraton, Vinpearl, Hilton. Didn’t stop. Our hotel, The Orange, particularly lovely. Small and perfect. Da Nang is much bigger than we expected. A brief thought about cycling up monkey mountain, but tomorrow will be a hard day, so a beer instead.
Nice Thai restaurant in the city, recommended by the staff at the hotel. Busy, a bit crazy but the food was great. We got back about 8.30 and a girl on the reception said ‘Are you not watching the dragon?’ Told us about the dragon bridge which spits out fire and water on sat and sun eve. A great way to end the day.
Big day tomorrow and we have pre-ordered our breakfast for an early start. Usually the pre-orders get lost. We will see.