#2 in Central America

After numerous screaming fans and book deals flying my way, I thought I would add my second post to our blog.  I'll call it "#2 in Central America".

I promised my darling wife that I would keep this short, which for me, is not an easy task. Those who know me can confirm that I am a long winded story teller.

Traveling to Central America (CA) was one of the best decisions we could have made for this trip.  Sarah, nor I knew much about the region and decided to start in Antigua, Guatemala, because it seemed like the "cool" thing to do. We traveled through Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Life in CA is a sobering reminder of how good we have it in the US. A few things come to mind in keeping with my blog post titled/themed "#2 in Central America". 

Proper plumbing is nonexistent.  If you plan to travel to CA, be prepared NOT to flush any TP into the actual toilet. There is usually a small garbage can stuffed with the remains from the earlier clients nearby. If you are lucky enough to find a bathroom with TP, it will be scented like baby powder. A majority of the plumbing is pieced together from ancient clay pipes, which are cracked and clogged along the journey.  You may be thinking that we are just staying at cheapo spots, which is true, BUT even the nicest of hotels and restaurants advise you not to put anything into the toilets.

Let's talk about hot water. In the US, we are used to every sink/shower having two knobs,"hot" and "cold." In CA, there is one. It's called "Water". The thought of wasting energy/gas/electricity to heat up water is outrageous. Believe it or not, Sarah and I took cold water showers for two months. What is that like you ask? It sounds like Santa is in the bathroom. Lots of Ho Ho Ho's until the joyous shock goes away. I highly recommend cold showers to pep you up for the day.

Central America is a beautiful place plagued with a stigma of being unsafe. We traveled not only to the "most dangerous" country in the world, BUT the "murder capital" of the word, San Pedro Sula, Honduras without incident. The sad reality is that all of the demand for drugs in the US and Europe, is fueling a vicious drug trade. In Guatemala City, one Chicken Bus  "Camionetta" driver gets killed each week for offenses within the trade. This has sadly become the norm.  If the driver/money men (conductor) don't pay the drug cartels for a "safety toll", bad things happen.

What we found is if you are looking for trouble, you will find trouble. If you visit the sights, speak with locals, eat local fare, you will have an incredible, unforgettable, and SAFE experience.

There's no place like home for the Holidays

We are so lucky for the non-stop fun we have had in Seattle with family and friends. From my mom's surprise party to a delicious and fun Christmas Eve dinner to a country Christmas celebration - each has allowed us time with those we miss daily along the road.

My brother's girlfriend Margo has been visiting our family as well and this has pushed us to show her our beautiful city. With Eric and I having no home here ourselves (our house is rented out) we feel like tourists ourselves! We have gone all through Pike Place Market, had drinks at the Fairmont and then a delicious dinner at Matt's in the Market. We have gone along the waterfront, checking out the wheel (but not being patient enough for the hour wait), gone to the aquarium, and my mom and I ducked into a few of our favorite shops. I have loved every minute of the runs I've been able to do here and feeling all those mussels get used again! We also got to spend time with all 4 of our nephews and our niece. How lucky are we?

Here are some photos from our awesome time spent in Seattle.

Getting stuff stolen sucks

We have been expecting for our stuff to get stolen along this trip. We have renounced our things as a friend suggested but still been vigilant about putting the few valuables we have into our bags and locking them before leaving our room every single time. We divvy up our valuables and external hard drives between bags on travel day hoping if only one gets stolen we will have back ups. I usually carry the most irreplaceable things on me in my purse, right next to my body, and do not let go. We have heard horror stories of things being stolen and were on borrowed time waiting for our turn.

Well, it turns out we got our turn when we least expected it, at a family friends house in Madison Park, Seattle. Yes, you read that right, not the "murder Capitol of the world", not in the "most dangerous country ever", but the place we have called home, and left everything out in our room, ripe for the picking.

The robbers, we are thinking there were at least 2-3, kicked in a basement door and methodically went through every room. In our room they took our new, borrowed camera (ours is getting fixed at Canon), Eric's bag (we think they used it for all their loot), and our electronics bag holding our external hard drives, all computer accessories, all of my prescription glasses and sunglasses, and whatever else happened to be in Eric's bag. It was a low blow. They did leave our passports and medical bag, both irreplaceable for our flight on Sunday, so we are at least grateful for that.

Our dear family friends fared far worse than us but that isn't my story to share. They had to come home from their vacation to deal with the aftermath of the criminals. The least we could do was get them a strong drink.

Thankfully no one was hurt and the house not too badly damaged. The one thing that gets to me was that in Central America we expected things to be taken by someone living on the edge of starvation, someone who could have had a better life because of having our stuff. But instead, probably the low-life's that stole our stuff are using it for drug money. That's the worst part of it all.

We had to spend a day running around Seattle replacing things instead of in the park with my nephews and are still trying to determine exactly what went missing.

I guess the lesson here is that you can never put your watch down and that anywhere is fair game. It's so sad that the income inequality is so that there are some desperate enough, without anything to lose, to prey on those with more.
 

A Seattle Surprise

A month ago my dad sent us an email saying he couldn't think what my mom would want more for her birthday than to have us home to help her celebrate.

This was the perfect point in our trip to head home - Central America is so close to Seattle that it would only take 8 hours to get home and then after the holidays we could continue on to South America.

We eagerly agreed.  And then started to get increasingly excited to surprise and see everyone.

We flew home on Wednesday and took a shuttle express to Eric's parent's house to surprise them first.  Lynn kept saying "what are you doing here?" and Tim exclaimed "what the shit?!".  They were really excited after we explained everything was fine and that we were only home for the holidays.  We spent the evening catching up with them. 

Thursday was the day to surprise my mom.  We had a lot of errands to run around the city and kept ducking into stores trying to keep a low profile.  When we ran into 3 people we know at UVillage we knew we had to get back to the house to hide!  Before leaving to surprise my mom we had dinner to surprise Kirstin and Max.  Well the surprise was on us as they knew we were in town!  A sighting had occurred when we were at SeaTac airport and a flurry of text messages went around with some of their friends deciding if we were in fact home.  It goes to show what a small city Seattle is! 

Thankfully my mom was surprised when she saw us.  When my parents left to pick up my brother Cory and his girlfriend Margo at the airport we sneaked into their house.  We were sitting in the living room when they arrived home and my dad insisted they all come in to see the living room.  My mom was wondering what could be different from when they left a few hours before and there we were!  The surprise was a success!  Hugs all around and then drinks as we caught up late into the night. 

We feel so fortunate to be home with our families over the holidays!  Led lights on fake Christmas lights just don't have the same appeal as the real deal at home and we have been missing the traditional holiday foods that cannot be replicated on the road. 

My mom's birthday party was Saturday night and here are some pictures for her party at Belle Clementine.  Beautiful toasts celebrated the woman I am so fortunate to call my mom.  It was a night to remember and we loved being there with family and friends.

San Juan Del Sur

We finally left Ometepe, setting off to rendezvous with Liz and Steve in San Juan Del Sur. They arrived a day before us and had found us a sweet cabin on the beach about 20 minutes north of SJDS on Beach Marsella.  The beach was stunning and incredibly empty – we kept joking we had the whole place to ourselves!  We spent our days relaxing over leisurely breakfasts, exploring the nearby beaches, and enjoying the views in every direction.  Liz and I even took a beach-side yoga class one morning that left me feeling more tranquillo than I have in weeks! 

Here are some photos of the hike we did to a deserted beach that we had to ourselves:

And here are photos from a beach further north, Maderas beach:

We left Beach Marsella to come see baby turtles hatch with a woman we met named Paula in San Juan Del Sur. Embarrassingly and hilariously Paula ditched us so we ended up in SJDS with no baby turtles but the passion fruit (my new obsession) smoothies made it worth our early return. 

We are all headed back to Granada together later today to spend more time in the city that has captured Eric and my hearts. 

Still on Ometepe

Again we thought about leaving Ometepe but decided to stay.  A couple at our hotel, Hospedaj Soma, wanted to climb the other volcano, Conception, and I eagerly agreed.  Thus, it was the first time on this trip Eric and I have been apart in 2 months! 

We left the hotel after breakfast with our excellent guide, Louis.  He was so impressive!  He speaks English, German, and Spanish fluently and is getting his degree in French!  He shared with us so much wisdom, such as banana plants can only produce bananas once in their life and then they must be cut down, that leaf ants supply nutrients to mushrooms and then eat the mushrooms, and the reasons why monkeys can become separated from their group.  The meters passed by with interesting conversation.  He is another source of inspiration to continue learning!

Thankfully Conception was a much different hike than Maderas and I liked it much more (if you can't tell from the photos!!).  There was no mud, but also beautiful views throughout.  At the end of the hike we got to see some cows along the road and Louis told us that they cows are all raised on the island for their milk and meat.  Seeing how beautiful these cows were made me actually want to try the meat!  If only all cows could live life on Ometepe!  I loved spending the day hiking and learning so much about Nicaragua and Ometepe, it's such a special island with beautiful, friendly, people.

Tomorrow we actually might leave and with plans in San Juan Del Sur, likely this will be our last post from here, but I know we will be back!

Ometepe: Our paradise

We planned two nights to visit Ometepe, an Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, with two impressive volcanoes.  As we are now on our 5th night here, we can attest that this island is paradise!  Besides being in Nicaragua, in a fresh-water lake, and the low prices, we can't stop comparing the island to Hawaii.  The temperature is finally do-able at around 80 degrees, with flora and fauna that that both look and smell delicious.  The volcanoes loom above in most photos and are seriously impressive.  There are hiking trails all over the Island, going up to waterfalls, to the summit of the volcanoes, and throughout little nature preserves along the lake. 

We met an awesome couple coming from our Hostal in Granada, Steve and Liz, and have latched on to them, eager to talk and travel with new people!  They came to Nicaragua and the island to hike the Maderas volcano so after spending the night in a lovely hotel, Hospedaje Soma, we went to the other side of the Island to be closer to the trail head.  We stayed on the beach in Santo Domingo.  On the way we hired a car to give us a tour and got to explore and learn more about the Island and all that they produce here.  It was a gorgeous tour. 

Early the next morning we met our guides for the 8 hour hike up the Maderas volcano.  The only store in the little town where we were staying had packaged foods so we loaded up on snickers bars, chips, and our new favorite, a bag of black beans.  We heard the trail was hard and muddy but decided this didn't apply to us as we are all able bodied adults and in fairly good shape.  We assured ourselves they were probably just trying to warn off overweight people and that we'd be fine.  Unfortunately they were right! 

The hike was a haul up a muddy, muddy trail.  We were slipping on every surface: mossy rocks, wet clay covered portions of trail, and of course there was the mud.  We had bets going on who would fall first and how much beer each fall was worth.  By the end we were all covered in mud and had lost track of how many beers we were each owed.  We were a mess!  There also sadly weren't any views as most of the struggle up the mountain was in a cloud forest.  Eric summed it up perfectly when we were done, he said knowing what we did now, that he wouldn't have done it again, but that he was glad we did it.  It's also worth noting we are all still sore 2 days later!

We have been enjoying the rest of our time here eating delicious food (one of the 3 restaurants in Santo Domingo is a vegetarian restaurant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), reading books, and splitting our time between relaxing on the beach and swimming in the clean, lake water.  It will be so hard to leave tomorrow but this will certainly be a place we return to later in life!   

Laguna de Apoyo

Escaping the heat (seems to be a common theme to our trip!) we went to Laguna de Apoyo for a night.  The setting was ideal in every way.  The grounds of the hotel we stayed at, Paradiso, were beautifully done with well spaced out restaurants and bars in prime spots to look out over the Laguna.  The food was divine, Eric enjoyed beef tenderloin today and I was able to eat multiple salads (this is a first for the trip!).  The water temperature of the laguna was also so pleasant - it was about the same temperature as outside so getting into the water was enjoyable versus shockingly cold.  We swam all along the shoreline and back and forth to the float. They also had kayaks, inner-tubes, darts, boule, and other games but honestly the view was too pretty and beers too cold to move from our lounge chairs by the laguna! 

We have been so lucky to meet the people we have along this trip and at Laguna de Apoyo was no different.  We met a really nice couple, Maureen and Alan that were traveling from Toronto.  We enjoyed our time over dinner and breakfast with them and today decided to we need to spice it up a bit and get tattoos and start smoking.  We told them if they lead we'll follow :)

We cannot wait to go back to the Laguna, either when we circle back to Granada in a few weeks or on another trip someday.  It was paradise.  Oh and did I mention no bugs?!?!??! 

Riding horses around town

Everywhere we go we see horses carting people around and have been told it's the only way to see the city of Granada.  We were recommended to Osman at buggy #1 for the best tours and went to talk to him to see what we thought.  He was a really nice guy and spoke pretty good English so off we went.  His uncle owned the boat so we'd get to go on a boat tour of the 360 islands in Lake Nicaragua afterwards.

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Osman shared the city's history with us as we went and we loved seeing all the beautiful houses and churches along the way.  This city does color in such an excellent way.  We got some bananas to feed both the horses and the monkeys we'd meet later on the lake.  Here are some photos of our tour around the city and lake. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

We did our best to celebrate Thanksgiving for our first together out of the country.  Despite not being able to find pumpkin pie, we had a delicious meal with another woman staying in our Airbnb, Melissa.  We started the night off with white wine, cheese and bread, all three of which were a huge treat!  Good cheese has been nonexistent on this trip but a nearby French bakery, Pan y Paz has an incredible selection.  For dinner we made roasted veggies, mashed potatoes, and purchased a rotisserie chicken.  Dessert was a chocolate mousse (again from Pan y Paz) that was so good I had to hold myself back from not licking my plate.  It was a fun meal to share and we stayed up late in the night drinking more wine and talking. 

We have so much to be thankful for this year and traveling in Central America makes this even more apparent.  I have taken way too much for granted in the US - safety, clean drinking water, access to bug repellant and sunscreen, honest police, safe hiking trails, clean living environments, and non-smelly towels.  This trip has made me so thankful for how fortunate we are in every way.  We have incredible, supportive families and friends and were so lucky to grow up educated in Seattle.  While we weren't celebrating at home we were thinking of all of you that we are lucky to have in our lives. 

Cheers!

Happy Birthday to my husband!

The day started off a bit rocky when we found out our ATM number had been cloned and someone in Lima, Peru was living the high life thanks to us.  We were at a little French Bakery, Pan y Paz, that we can't get enough of, and using their free internet to make sure all accounts were ok.  I'm glad we checked and were able to deal with it before our account was drained. 

Full of croissants and glad we caught the jerk when we did, we headed off to catch the bus to the nearby beach. Arriving at the beach we found our way up the road and into the boat to take us over to another beach near the Lodge where we were staying.  15 minutes later we arrived at a little slice of Paradise along the Pacific Ocean.  We splurged on a little cabana and settled into our rum and cokes on the beach.  We were staying at an Ecolodge called Surfing Turtle Lodge that had a prime location on the beach with no other houses in sight. 

We enjoyed some delicious food, cribbage games (I let Eric win for his present), and went to bed listening to the waves crash outside our cabana.  It was a great end to the rocky start of the day.

We are so lucky to be doing this trip together and to get to celebrate our birthdays around the world.  It's strange to think where we will be next year to celebrate! 

Happy birthday to my best friend and travel partner for life.  32 is just the beginning!

Getting to Leon aka "worst day of travel... so far"

The guidebook used italics when it said Lake Yojoa is the place to stop between the bay islands and Nicaragua. Whoever wrote this was correct if a private car was used for transport but for us using the buses it was a complete disaster to get to the lake and beyond.

To get to the lake we hired a private car to miss the dangerous San Pedro Sula (the city was awarded the title of murder Capitol of the world last year!). It made getting from the ferry in La Ceiba to the Lake and brewery easy but was incredibly expensive.  We enjoyed our time at the lake immensely as detailed in this post

To get from the lake to Leon it took 2 long days of 4 buses that I'll detail here. On Friday we were at the bus stop (well really just sitting by the road) at 6a. The bus arrived at 6:30 with a flat tire so we had to wait an hour for it to be fixed. It also kept overheating so we stopped every 10 minutes or so for more water to be put into the coolant. This journey lasted over an hour longer than expected and we arrived to Tegucigalpa late. Trying to avoid staying in this dangerous (and really expensive city) we decided to take the local buses on to get to Leon that day. We were traveling with Manuela so also felt a bit safer in numbers and with her advanced Spanish!

Next we jumped in a cab and were the last two allowed on the bus (Manuela wasn't ready to leave so quickly so we parted with her there).  There weren't any seats left so I was on a 5 gallon bucket at the front of the bus and Eric as the back, sitting on the steps, wedged between people.  This two hour journey to the border wasn't even that bad and they were nice enough to take us as close to the border as they could get. 

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We had to walk across a really chaotic border with trucks lined up for miles waiting to get through.  It was relatively easy to get across and it was at this point, around 2 in the afternoon that we were finally able to go to the bathroom!  (Not healthy!)  We waited there for 20 minutes and then got on a chicken bus going to the nearby town of Ocotol.  The bus was beyond crowded and we were sitting with all of our stuff on our laps.  In Ocotol we found out we'd missed the last bus to Leon.  At this point (now around 4p) we were worried about the quickly approaching sunset around 5:15 and traveling at dark.  We had found Manuela again at this point and all decided to go to the next biggest town nearby, Esteli.  At least this town was in the guidebook.  We got on another overcrowded chicken bus and went without seats for the first 30 minutes.  For us, who rarely took public transport before this trip, the bus was completely chaotic.  We had people pressing up against us in all directions and through the throngs of people there were vendors yelling out what they were selling.  At one point I burst out laughing when a man boarded the bus with chickens (hence the name of these buses, chicken buses).  It was quite the bus ride. 

We arrived in the dark to a completely deserted bus terminal with no lights.  On the street we flagged down a cab and went to a hostel for the night.  The hostel where Eric and I wanted to stay had all the rooms full so we got to stay in my first dorm room...   Luckily we were the only ones there!  The next morning we had a delicious breakfast and then tried to go on a cigar factory tour (but they don't have them on the weekends???).  After speaking to a guy at our hostel and being assured buses leave to Leon every hour we headed to the bus station around 10a.  Well, he couldn't have been more wrong as we waited for 3 hours for a bus to arrive.  We were the only tourists there and no one spoke English so we couldn't really understand why there were no buses.  When a small private bus arrived we were ready to throw people down to get two seats.  Luckily no fighting was needed and we were treated to an uneventful, and even dare I say, nice trip further South.  We finally arrived to our Airbnb in Leon around 3:30p completely exhausted but beyond happy to have made it and still have all of our stuff! 

I'm glad we missed Tegucigalpa but the guidebook really needs some work in naming Lake Yojoa "the" place to stop when there is no easy way to get beyond. We are trying to let the journey taint our opinion of the D&D brewery where we stayed or the Lake itself.  

We are now in Leon and will be avoiding buses for a while, setting out on foot to explore what is said to be a beautiful city!