Goal for trip #1: See Sloth.
When we thought of Costa Rica, Britt and I daydreamed about white beaches, tranquil rainforests and cuddling baby sloths. What didn’t spring to mind was unyielding torrential rain (on second thoughts, what did we expect from the rainforest?) and a country so expensive we survived off an awful concoction of Avocado, bean and tuna wraps.
After crossing the border from Panama into Costa Rica we settles in the tiny surf town of Puerto Viejo. I wan’t to say we had an amazing, tropical time here, but I would be lying. We spent three days in a cyclonic, neverending downpour, the only highlight being a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Centre (This is a trick! there are no Jaguars here!) where our Sloth dream came true (sans cuddles-turns out they actually hate being cuddled. humph.)
Nicaragua used to be a secret, the destination only the well travelled backpackers visited. Not anymore. Many travellers in recent years boycotted Nica and it’s marred history and favoured the safe, touristy Costa Rica, but with Costa Rican prices soaring, hoards of backpackers are skipping Costa and flooding the border for beautiful Nicaragua, Central Americas best new destination. With our bank account already hurting, budget blown and living off beans (why aren’t I skinny yet?) we simply couldn’t stay in Costa Rica and did what everyone seems to do and hightailed in the rain through San Jose for a few days on onwards to Nicaragua.
We arrived in Sunny (YES) San Juan Del Sur, home of the infamous Sunday Funday. Sunday Funday is almost an institution in Nicaragua-The biggest party in Central America. If you’ve been anywhere in Central and Northern South America you’ll invariably see a myriad of backpackers sporting the obligatory “Sunday Funday Pool Party” singlet and they’ll regale you with tales of drunken debauchery. It’s written on the faces of tired, worn down gringos..yes, they’d been to Sunday Funday, yes, they’d drunk too much, snorted too much cocaine and fallen into a pool. It’s in the eyes of those escaping… “no way, I’ve got to get out, I just can’t do it again” …
When we arrived late afternoon to our hostel we were faced with a bar full of cross-dressed men, being led by an Australian wearing a females G-string one piece floral swinsuit…and nothing else. We knew our visions of relaxed sunbaking by our infinity pool were far out of reach. And so began the leadup to Sunday Funday. It’s basically one giant pool crawl, from hostel to hostel around town, ending with a massive after party (spoiler: did NOT make the after party, was in bed at 8pm.) The morning begins at 9am (yes, your read that correctly-rum punch at 9am) where we donned our token singlet and started drinking poolside. Day basically goes like this: Go to pool. Drink (excessively.) Dance. Maybe get thrown in pool. Repeat. Late afternoon, in the pouring rain, we jump in the back of a cattle truck to head to the last hostel, where we dance in the rain amongst hundreds of sweaty bodies until we stuff our face with street food and fall into bed with the thumping of Latin music ringing in our ears.
Our first and only Sunday Funday complete.
After an awfully hungover Monday Roast dinner, we set off for the historical town of Granada with our new Aussie friends Mike and Emma, which, in that small world only backpackers can understand, share more than one mutual friend from home. Chicken buses can be an eye-opening and wonderful way to travel through Central America. These old retired yellow school buses from the U.S are colourfully and artfully decorated in the most exuberant and lively fashion and are the hidden gem of Central American Travel. They’re called chicken buses because they are invariably jam packed full of people, herded about like chickens. Although, don’t be surprised if people actually bring on their own livestock. Your pack is thrown in the back with the bus barely slowing to a stop, you fling yourself on board and squeeze in between the locals. Breathe in the beautiful scent of stale sweat, tobacco and local food. You may be handed someones child to hold until their stop, and thats okay-everyone on the chicken bus works together. Enjoy the crazed preacher at the front of the bus and raves about Jesus. Humour the man who tries to sell you magic “cure-all” pills (where were you when we got liver parasites in Bolivia hmm?) Kudos to you if you can get a widow seat-push your way through the droves of locals, enjoy some fresh air, maybe avoid having someone sit on your lap (no guarantee) and be privvy to the delightful practice of making food and beverage transactions leaning out of the window. It’s the best way to experience local life and they are crazy efficient!
The four of us spent a few days in colourful Granada, then we take off to Laguna de Apoyo. You round the bend at the top of a mountain and are welcomed by a grand, deep blue lake where we spent 4 days relaxing lakeside in the beautiful Hostel Paradiso that starts at the water and climbs the cliffside, where we can literally lay in our bed and watch the sun rise over the lake. Does it actually get much better? Our days are spent with a morning swim to the pontoon in the middle of the lake for sunrise yoga, smoothies on the beach, reading in hammocks and kayaking around the lake. It sort of feels like we’re in school summer camp and that’s also sort of awesome. While we would have loved to have stayed here forever, time is ticking down and we’ve only 5 weeks left of exploration!
Back to the chicken buses we go until we arrive in Leon, to take part in the second “must do” in Nicaragua- Volcano Boarding. Confused? It’s exactly as it seems… jump in the back of a cattle truck, drive to an active volcano, grab a toboggan-sled, climb the volcano, put on a Minion fat suit, try not to get blown off the precipice by unrelenting winds and slide down the side of the volcano using a rope to hold on to and your feet as brakes. While we didn’t break any land records (max is 95km!) we did have a lot of fun, though I’m pretty sure the dog that clocked 55km left us in Volcano dust. Emma was worried the Volcano would erupt and the guide didn’t issue us any emergency escape plan (pretty sure the escape plan would be grab a sled and beat the dog to the bottom) however we managed to escape with our lives in tact, which is more than can be said for the poor chicken we ran over on the way home…
How many people can say that in one day they boarded down an active volcano, crossed 4 different countries and had a police border escort? At 2am we jump into a squishy soccer-mum van with a bunch of other tourist and begin the disastrously long and potentially dangerous journey from Nicaragua, through Honduras and El Salvador, into Guatemala. San Pedro, Honduras is the repeat murder capital of the world, while El Salvador is steadily climbing and not far off world wide winner Honduras in the top 5 most dangerous countries. Alright, so hearing this we’re a little apprehensive. Stopping at rest stops that have armed guards, that makes us somewhat wary. Crossing borders into Honduras and El Salvador and we don’t even turn the van off. Immigration comes to us. We’re told we need to wait for a police escort over the border; apparently tourist ambush is common practice. Surely everyone’s just being over cautious…right? Then Em and Mike tell us about their attempted ambush in Colombia where a group of men reefed open their van door, brandished a gun and attempted to rob the entire troupe. Luckily this news comes after dreaded Colombia blog post, yet still doesn’t fill us with much confidence.
We’re told the trip will take 16 hours and we’ve mentally prepared for the torturous trip. What we’re not mentally prepared for is to sit in 40 degree heat, at a gas station in San Salvador, for 4 hours, while the van takes off unannounced to “fix a part” (please be air con) with all our belongings and doesn’t come back for 4.5 hours. After the two hour mark we’re starting to fear our phones and laptops are being hawked on the street and some Latin American woman is the proud new owner of a “Sheridan Hockley” passport.
Fortunately, before we can all drown in our own sweat, the mum-van returns (air con still non existent) and we set off, police escort in tow, for the remainder of our 20hour car trip as we cross into Guatemala under the cover of darkness, guided by our flashing Police lights and leave Lovely Nicaragua behind.
Saw a sloth. Didn’t become a statistic. Slaying life.