Nicaragua – The Beginning

Nicaragua, the largest of the countries in the Central American isthmuses, a very much up and coming destination for backpackers and holiday tourists, is often cited in magazines and websites as a top holiday destination to discover and explore. It was a renewed sense of adventure that we passed through customs and border control relatively hassle free, jumped on a bus after shoving off insistent taxi drivers, and made our way to San Juan Del Sur. Zipping past kilometres of wind farms that had been constructed in the last couple of years as part of the governments promise to decrease air pollution, we passed the hour happily scenery and people watching from our old American yellow school bus. We were heading North along the Pan American Highway with views of two majestic volcanoes on our right, with the Pacific ocean somewhere in the unseeing distance on our left making our way to Rivas, a city where we were to change buses for another smaller local bus to our final destination. After jumping off the bus and walking to the other bus station, we were, as usual, harassed by a host of taxi drivers who had dollar signs in their eyes as they saw another two gringo’s. We had read that often it can be cheaper if you get four of you in a taxi from Rivas to San Juan Del Sur, so we bartered and negotiated a price that we were willing to pay for two of us. Sure it was more than two bus rides would have been, but it would be direct to our hostel and a lot more convenient and comfy. Being surprised by one taxi driver who seemed considerably cheaper than everyone else, we checked, double checked and triple checked the price and destination, but he seemed to be sticking to the low monetary figure, and we figured that he just wanted the business. Move forward 5 minutes and you would have seen me leaning out of a taxi car door as it trundled along a busy street, slowly but perceptively moving into barren areas, shouting at the taxi driver to stop and causing a commotion, as Han fretted over a large knife the taxi driver had just displayed on the seat next to him. Magically and amazingly the price had just doubled as soon as we made about 100m from taxi rank that we were understandably unwilling to pay. Shouting in our pigeon Spanish that we wanted to get a bus and let us out, it was with nervous requests that the taxi driver got out and opened the boot for us to get our bags. We walked back the 300m to the bus station; we were surprisingly calm and serene about the whole situation. If we had managed to get to more desolate areas a couple of minutes further down the road, things might have been different, but opening the door and shouting whilst still in relative busy streets seemed to have sorted out the situation and 10 minutes later we were on a bus to San Juan Del Sur reading the guide books about the up-and-coming surfer beach town. Over our two nights at this black hole of a down under backpacker area; Aussies seemed to converge on the party driven “Funday Sunday” town to never escape and be lost in an eternal struggle of finding themselves on a bus out of there but not missing the next big party, we stayed at a hostel with an amazing infinity pool overlooking the ocean that was renowned for parties, as well as a downtown sandy floored type A backpacker abode. The main highlight though was the main reason that we wanted to visit the area, the Olive Ridley Turtles and their arribadas. In only 7 places over the world a phenomenon known as an arribada happens; thousands upon thousands of turtles converge on...

Monteverde

After sitting at the Costa Rican equivalent of a souped up Sunday dinner style KFC for 90mins, our pre-booked shuttle screeched into the parking lot under the burning midday sun, we threw our newly lightened loads into the back, along with our newly re-energized bodies and pulled off onto the highway. Two hours previously we had said our farewells to Han’s parents, Alan and Margaret, who had come over to Costa Rica for the festive period, and we set off on a sun bleached New Years Eve making our way to the cloud forest of Monteverde. We had had a wonderful two weeks with the Agers but were looking forward to getting back on the backpacker trail, as well as heading towards cooler climates as we made our way into the highlands of Costa Rica. We arrived amidst blowing winds and trouser wearing weather, checked into our hostel of choice and revelled in the fact that our bed had 2 large fluffy covers to keep us warm in the night. After backpacking for 3 months through Central America, often sweating through nights of restless sleep, having showers only to need another one shortly afterwards, positioning noisy fans to point at the optimal point to cool both of our bodies, the chance of being able to slip into a warm bed whilst the wind rattled the roof and cool air breezed through the cracks in the wall, was a welcome relief and recuperating rest. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Moving away from the oh-so British proverbial talk about the weather, however, our time in Monteverde was a great restart for our backpacking lives. With an abundance of wildlife in the form of hundreds of species of birds, thousands of species of fauna,...

Costa Rica and The Agers

We touched down on Costa Rican soil excited to be only a couple of days away from seeing some familiar home faces, and only a couple of days away from Tetley tea bags and a supply of Cadburys Chocolate that even Han didn’t manage to consume in the first 48 hours. Han’s parents were making the journey over for the festive period to join us for 2 weeks exploring the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica, and we had arrived a day ahead of schedule in the capital of San Jose. We had originally planned to take a 22-hour bus all the way from San Salvador, through Nicaragua, stopping off for food at a Burger King (no, really) before clearing another border and alighting in San Jose a day later. However, due to Some miscommunication with our Spanish and the tellers English Some extremely heavy usage of buses just before the holidays See (1) We found ourselves stuck in San Salvador, knowing we had around 48 hours to find a way to Costa Rica. With options slowly dwindling, and the prospects of sitting on really bad buses for over 40 hours, swapping, changing, money altering, food finding, and more swapping of buses not really hitting the ‘this is how life should be’ big button of fun, I made the executive decision to buy Han an early Christmas present and to take to the airs. Around 1 hour after take off, a mid air meal, free beverages and a smooth landing, my mind was happy at it’s decision and we found ourselves taking the relatively clean and orderly Costa Rican bus service to the capital away from the airport. My first thoughts of Costa Rica were one of a developed country, with a large influx of American merchandise and money, buses that have designated spaces for large oversized backpacks and taxis that charge by the meter. It was a relative breath of fresh air to arrive in a country and not have to figure out by how much the taxi driver or bus driver was ripping off the white faced Gringo. Founded in 1738 and lying in a valley surrounded on two sides by imposing volcanoes, we spent a fun morning pottering around the markets, walking the streets and seeing the usual tourist sites of a theatre, some churches and an ex-fort-turned-museum. After a break for lunch, where cheesecake was found, and found to be tasty, we then went in search of a church that the Lonely Planet recommended and soon found that first impressions are like judging the proverbial book by its cover. Once we scratched beyond the surface, we delved deeper into packed streets, the markets, the darker alleys and the rubbish filled gutters; a chaos that only works because its chaos. Seen from above the packed non-pedestrianised streets would look like an army of ants marching forever in random directions with no apparent rules or purpose. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, milling, swarming, walking, shouting, bumping; cars honking, pushing, shoving through the human mass. We spent an hour in search of the church, which we eventually found, and quickly decided that it was time to try and head back to the relative calm and safety of our hostel. San Jose to me felt like a mixed bag of westernised changes that were attempting to boot polish a chaotic, over populated city with a national psyche that in parts still wasn’t ready or wanting to change. You had areas of big chain stores, wide streets, clean malls, brands that I knew and then you had the ‘real’ Costa Rica with packed markets, shouts, calls, fume churning buses and the usual array of cheap street food and haggling. The next day was full of excitement from both parts of the Ager Family. We held up our lovingly created ‘Alan + Margaret’ signs at the arrivals, wondered where...

Juayua

Juayua (pronounced ‘why-you-er’) is a quant little town, founded in 1577, nestled up in the mountains of El Salvador that is famous for its food festival that lines the streets every weekend. For this reason we had pushed back our visit from earlier on the week and arrived at the cobblestone-strewn colonial town early on Thursday afternoon. The email directions of 5 blocks east and 3 blocks north from where the bus drops you off were surprisingly accurate as we lugged our luggage through the town square to our hostel we had reserved previously. The owner, Darren, a devout Ipswich Fan from England, was more than accommodating and the place had that great feel when a westerner manages to throw in some western comforts amongst the character and traditions of a local hostel. After successfully navigating the often crazy and misguided El Salvadorian bus system, changing buses in record time in the functional yet dirty town of Sonsonate, we had arrived at Juayua at the pleasing and refreshing time of 11am, so still had a full day of fun ahead of us. We quickly organised a tour for later that day to see the local waterfalls that inhabit themselves, conveniently, a pleasant 4km walk away, passing through a local village and into the jungle strewn surrounding countryside. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Our guide only spoke Spanish but that only forced us ‘practicar sus Espanol’ (still probably wrong), and we had a good hour traversing down the hill, chatting about local happenings and history and being shown the local fauna, flora and coffee plants that inhabit the area. After a detour to follow a trickling stream we arrived atop a precipice that overlooked a majestic waterfall cascading over the cliffs 100m away. Toppling over 7 or 8 different cliff edges, the rushing waterfalls appeared from within the dense forest and disappeared amongst the enveloping jungle below, with only the sound of the river giving any notice that the water flowed beyond our field of vision. We carried on our water adventure by visiting some different waterfalls shortly after, these ones however spanned over 500-600m in width, broken up by cliffs and jungle, and allowed us to swim and play in the cooling fresh waters. The highlight however was the cave system that had been built between the falls. Originally built for irrigation purposes for a local water plant, they now allowed tourists and locals alike to slowly walk neck high in water, through dark and echoing tunnels, barely big wide enough for a human to turn around in. After a fun, refreshing, pleasing 40 minutes we changed back into our hiking shoes and trekked back up through the winding paths and plantations back to the hostel. It had been a good day, managing to move towns safely and conveniently, as well as visit some sites, sounds and senses later on in the day, and we sat back enjoying our ‘1 free beer’ from the hostel, watching a film in the lounge in the quiet hotel with the hostel staff. We had opted to stay in Juayua until Sunday morning, where we were planning on heading back to the capital to sort out a bus to Costa Rica, and with Saturday given over to gluttonous pursuits at the food festival, that gave way to Friday for exploring the sites and town on the 34km ‘Ruta De Flores’. After the usual morning activities and picking up some bread from ‘El Salvador’s Best Bakery’, which we had ordered the night before, we jumped on the old dilapidated American School bus and started to loudly rev our way onwards. Lightened, for once, without cumbersome backpacks we trundled off in roughly North Westerly direction to visit the three towns and a coffee plantation we had penned in to see. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The first town offered...

Los Cobanos

With the only tourists in sight, we jumped off our old American yellow school bus into the dirt track at the edge of Los Cobanos. Not being suddenly bombarded by touts, taxi’s and tourette driven money changers was a breath of fresh air, and we were soon realizing that El Salvador is an often missed out gem in the backpacker circuit. The minus side however is that Spanish speaking is a must when you’re trying to find a hostel of choice, or directions to somewhere that can house two weary travellers for a couple of nights. On the plus side though, everyone is so helpful and friendly it wasn’t long before we were walking along the beach, stepping over the ropes that were holding boats at bay along the coast, through dark shack alleyways that lined the ocean-lapping sand and through to the other side of this isolated fishing village to one of the hostels that the Bible (the Lonely Planet) mentioned. We were quickly shown our room (a dorm to ourselves) on this beach fronted ‘probably-was-beautiful-when-it-was-built-20-years-ago-but-is-now-a-bit-in-need-of-repair-and-love’ hostel, just in time for sunset and some pupusa’s on the beach. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The fishing village of Los Cobanos is small, so small in fact that you can wander its 2km length in 20mins, and it could be roughly described as two distinct parts; the slightly more upmarket shack esque ‘bars’ and hotels, and the slightly more down-to-earth fisherman’s wharf, both of which are comprised of walking along the beach, or through and around its shacks and houses that are thrown up randomly along the coast. The fisherman’s wharf gives you cheaper food, real hard-graft life and straight-from-the-ocean fish sales, along with some stares and laughs, where as the other...