Month: March 2017

Macaws, woodpeckers and treasure

Macaws, woodpeckers and treasure

The coastal road south ends at Sierpe. From there it’s an exhilarating 90mins boat ride through the mangroves, out into the Pacific Ocean to the Osa Peninsula; one of the most isolated parts of Costa Rica.

We’re staying in frontier-town Bahía Drake (Drake’s Bay), named after the British sailor, Sir Francis Drake, who came ashore here in the 16th century and the location of one of his fabled hidden treasures. Dirt tracks, part-built wooden huts, kids on noisy motorbikes, a bar that overlooks the tree canopy; it’s that sort of place.

We walked over a suspension bridge, along the coast to enjoy a collection of deserted beaches and the wildlife. We found no treasure, except the beauty of being here.

The fruits of Costa Rica

The fruits of Costa Rica

Fruit in Costa Rica is simply the best; it is large, sweet, ripe and has wonderful textures. Quality you can’t get at an urban supermarket.

At the side of every road there are colourful stalls with all sorts of fruits which simply make you want to stop and buy; today we have bought a massive ripe pineapple for £1.50 to eat in our hostel. Fruit is the perfect convenience food for travellers giving us lots of vitamin C, energy and fibre.

We’ve been gorging mostly on watermelons, mangoes, pineapples, guava and coconuts but there are dozens of other unpronounceable species we have yet to try. No other pineapple we taste in the future can be as good as the one we’re having this morning. No food miles, straight off the tree.

Life in a shack

Life in a shack

The hardest working thing in our shack is the fan. We have dissolved into a very lazy few days. Going for beach walks, wave-jumping in the sea and cycle rides to the nearest fruit and vegetable store. But most of the time we are just re-charging our batteries.

The shack on the edge of the jungle – just five minutes walk to the beach – is an exceptional AirBnB find. Hosts Eva and Johnny welcomed us with fresh coconut juice and Johnny shinned up the tree again today, to fetch us some more supplies.

Of course, the simple life is much easier when the weather is so glorious. But how we complicate our lives back home.

Pura Vida – Costa Rica

Pura Vida – Costa Rica

We’ve arrived at paradise. A cabin in the jungle. A five minute dirt track walk to the beach. And then miles of perfect unspoilt sand.

They call Costa Rica South Florida so we were a little worried the place would be overdeveloped. Sure Jaco was full of couples just in from Miami and life-weary Vietnam war vets but two more public buses down the Pacific Coast and Uvita is the authentic Costa Rica.

The country’s motto is Pura Vida which simply translated means ‘Pure Life’.  But for Ticos and Ticas, as the locals are known, it means more. It’s a way of accepting that whatever your situation, life is short and you need to get on and have a good time living it ‘pura vida style’.

This philosophy might help to explain how happy Costa Ricans are, why it’s one of the few countries in the world to have disbanded their military (in 1948) to spend the money on education and culture, and how it’s the most prosperous country in Central America.

It’s certainly a lifestyle we aim to adopt for the next week or so. Pura Vida.


South America – parting thoughts

South America – parting thoughts

The above photo shows us in Chile’s Atacama Desert. It sums up the great experiences we have enjoyed during 11 weeks in South America.

It’s been about amazing natural landscapes. The Beagle Channel, Valley of the Moon, Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine, Iguacu Falls, Tierra del Fuego, Cotopaxi, Mount Fitzroy and the Amazon Basin Jungle to name a few.

These are the reasons to take the all-night buses, stay in dodgy rooms and put up with the crowded polluted cities. We’ve found it tough going at times but can now look at a map of South America and recall so many wonderful natural sights.

But the same can’t be said for manmade sights. Except for some colonial buildings that had the fortune to escape the wrecking-ball.

In our travels from Quito to Ushuaia, we were constantly reminded that this is still a continent that’s suffering from poor leadership and woeful civil community. Locals talked to us about ongoing government corruption. Towns were haphazard and ugly. And everywhere litter.

Indeed it’s difficult to think of two more different travel experiences than our two months in Italy and our three months here. Culture v nature. Style v clutter. Order v chaos.

Yet for all that, South America was exhilarating. The people are so young. It’s clearly changing so quickly. And given the right leadership it could have the potential to be a bastion of western values in a difficult world.

Talking of which we will soon be blogging from deepest TrumpLand. But first some beach time.

If you plan to do this You’ll need lots of energy to do the 5000 miles we covered in 11 weeks. So don’t delay. Do it now. Also best to learn some Spanish or get proficient in using Google Translate.

Discovering Guayasamín

Discovering Guayasamín

So pleased we spent our last afternoon in Quito visiting the house where Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín lived and painted for the last 20 years of his life.

Next door is La Capilla del Hombre (“The Chapel of Man”) his own self-indulgent art gallery that documents man’s cruelty to man. Ironically, the money to build it came from a few South American dictators and others.

Discovering his emotive, shocking and deeply moving paintings was a real revelation. He said of his work: For the children that death took whilst playing, for the men that dimmed whilst working, for the poor that failed whilst loving, I will paint with the scream of a shotgun.

It’s a tough viewing. But Roger totally loved Guayasamín’s visual style. If you don’t know his work please take a look online and let us know what you think. It’s about faces and hands and suffering.

During the house tour we saw Guayasamín’s spacious studio. Some of our artist friends will be very envious



Ecuador at a defining moment

Ecuador at a defining moment

Back in Quito, as we went round the Presidential Palace (very underdressed!) the incumbent Rafael Correa was working away in his office. Unbelievably – given our European security sensitivities  – just down the corridor from us.

Unable to serve another term, Correa will be replaced on April 2nd when the country votes in the presidential run-off. It’s a defining moment for the country whose economy has crash-dived on the back of falling oil prices.

Leading in the polls is Lenín Moreno who offers continuity; many we spoke to fear this will lead to Ecuador becoming another Venezuela. Meanwhile Guillermo Lasso promises to put the economy first, reduce the state and align the country more with the West.

Should Lasso win – Wikileak’s Julian Assange might be booted out of the Ecuadorian London embassy sometime soon. But don’t expect that to happen. The ruling PAIS Alliance party have distributed a lot of money to the poor, built miles of roads, hired more civil servants than really needed and might even tamper with the vote.

The old wooden houses of Ecuador

The old wooden houses of Ecuador

Change happens. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.

In rural Ecuador it’s happening in front of our eyes. Down every valley. Along every road. And the result – there are almost no houses to be seen over 30 years old.

In the town where we have been staying for the past three nights, we saw two lovely old deserted places. Probably still standing only because a redirection of the Pan American highway has made Lasso a backwater.

Their wooden facias testament to a time before concrete. And a time when there was some aesthetic aspirations. Today the streets are often ugly and haphazard. Change.


Living with guinea pigs. How should we feel?

Living with guinea pigs. How should we feel?

It was dark and damp. Across the mud floor scuttled dozens of guinea pigs. In the corner a basic wooden platform was pointed to. This is where the couple sleep.

Hilary and Roger spent some time last year in The Scottish Outer Hebrides and visited a Black House (see picture below) museum. Sanitised for the tourist it was almost romantic to imagine families living in such ‘rural charm’ a hundred years ago.

Now here in Ecuador two indigenous people – a weather-beaten couple in their 60s – were showing us their home. It’s the other side of the world but it still came as a shock. After all, 50km up the road the elite are relaxing in their Quito mansions.

How should we feel?

You can’t escape the fact that it’s a travelling highlight to see such a scene. You can’t ignore the fact you want to see these indigenous houses still lived in rather than replaced by soulless concrete.

But how do we expect to sleep tonight? Not surrounded by mud, damp and guinea pigs for starters.


A Scottish Black House. Today they are typically museums, art galleries or derelict