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...

Tikal

We alighted in the small lake ‘island’ of Flores early on in the evening with tour operators trying to sell us tours, and drivers telling us that bank machines were closed and to use other ones that only they know. Luckily we had been warned of the pre-alighting sales blurb and falsities that are thrown at you when Gringos arrive at any towns in the vicinity of Tikal, and so it was that we found ourselves with some travelling friends at the great Los Amigos Hostel ordering a beer, and booking ourselves onto the next days Tikal Sunrise Tour. With Tikal being over an hour away from Flores however, and with sunrise wanting to be viewed from the tallest of the ancient Mayan temples – Temple IV – also around an hour’s walk from the park entrance, the sunrise tour starts from the hostel at the ungodly hour of 3am. The bathroom was unsurprisingly empty as we brushed our teeth, and with perfect timing we walked to the front door and were quickly whisked onto the small bumpy collectivo that was to be our ride to the park entrance. Intermittent sleep and non-conversation was had by all and before we knew it we jumped off the bus into the world famous park, to be greeted by Mayan rain. However, not to be deterred, head torches and rain jackets were donned and our guide took us round the sites briskly and efficiently as the rain slowly ceased and the dark slowly lifted. 45 minutes later and we were all climbing the steep steps of Temple IV to sit upon the steps of a temple from a different era overlooking the forest canopy. We were not to have a perfect sunrise, far from it; grey clouds...

San Frantastic

After two rocky days aboard ship, we alighted in the hilly, eccentric, free spirited city of San Francisco. I felt as though we had properly started ‘travelling’; the Alaskan portion of our adventure feeling more of a splurge, a calm before the storm, an expense before the backpacking penny pinching – and we were excited. As we checked into our city centre hostel we soon found out that the US Government had ‘shutdown’ and as such our plans were to change as we couldn’t hit Yosemite National Park unless it opened in time (which it wasn’t to do), giving us 5 nights in San Francisco to explore, navigate and enjoy before deciding to head North by an hour and camp in the state park of Mount Tamalpais. San Francisco was a great energetic city. It boasts to be very liberal with a lot of history in the gay rights movement, and this eclectic and diverse energy and culture seemed to ooze from its pavement pores as we wandered around trying to visit the main tourist sites along with pounding the streets of the more eclectic areas. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery With the US government shutdown an Alcatraz visit was out of the question, but after trekking for a day from our hostel, through the city, over the famous “most photographed bridge in the world” Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, we caught a ferry back during sunset and drifted slowly past the infamous prison. Even at this relative distance ‘the rock’ intrigued and fascinated me – maybe due to the copious amount of films I’ve seen about it – and it didn’t let down my over zealous imagination as I imagined breakouts and film-esque plotlines playing out within its shores. We had also landed on the eve of a world famous music festival – Strictly Blue Grass – and when checking out the acts saw that one of the bands we both like, First Aid Kit, were playing on the Friday evening at 4pm. The festival that boats 5 big stages over the urban sprawling 1.5mile square Golden Gate Park has been held for the past 10 years after the philanthropist creator of the festival donated millions of dollars when passing away to ensure the festival would run, free, every year for the next 12 years. We headed down to the free 3-day festival and listened to the music, ate from the copious amounts of amazing street food vendors and relaxed on the grass watching the world and all of its eclectic individuals pass by. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery When I first arrived in San Francisco I put out a message on Facebook to ask for suggestions in this city, and my brother who had visited a couple of years previously suggested checking out Bourbon and Branch, a speak easy where booking is essential and cocktails are the order of the day. After finally getting a table (this place is popular) we had the secret password and location by email and headed down to the bar. Knocking on the non-descript, non-signed door, we were presented with a woman asking if we had the password, where upon giving out the secret information were allowed into an amazing 1920’s speak easy bar. This place almost invented the world cool; 1920’s décor, low level lighting, a set of rules (no phones, no pictures, no asking for a cosmo, and of course, speak easy) and the bartenders and waitresses dressed up accordinly. We stayed there for a couple of hours before dinner having an amazing time, tasting our way through some seriously stupendiously tasty cocktails before wandering back to our hostel, slightly inebriated, way beyond our budget, but thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Throw in a random condimental selection of watching the gawping sea lions at Pier 39, moving to a disgusting hostel for a couple of...

Maui Part 2 – The Holiday We Envisaged Mar10

Maui Part 2 – The Holiday We Envisaged...

This is part two of my blog posting on our trip to Maui. The first part can be found here It says something about this enchanting island that after 4 days we hadn’t partaken on a ‘beach day’ yet; added to Han’s need for surf, sea and sand, this was doubly surprising. However, in a sun soaked snorkel swimming way, her wait was soon to be over. We had reconnaissanced the original debaucherous whale hunting turned touristy town of Laihana the previous evening, so wasted no time on our 5th day as we found ourselves walking in the early hours to the main beach strip a couple of kilometres away laden with the beach necessities; towels, frisbees, books, sun tan lotion, snorkel gear, snack food, juggling balls and a hope of swimming with turtles. We had heard a rumour that turtles prefer the early morning for their leisurely eating from the sea floor greenery (presumably they’re hungry after a good nights sleep), and so it was only a mere 5 minutes of setting the towels out in regimented British fashion that Han announced it was snorkelling time. I tried to warn Han that we should snorkel for the sights of the wonderful pacific fish and a sighting of a turtle would be a bonus, but I could tell she harvested ideas that turtles would come to her with gifts of exotic fruit and a pennant for conversation, and so it was after try one I could sense an emotion of disappointment that the turtles had not turned up to welcome us to their underwater domain. However we didn’t have to wait long, and a few hours later in the 75-80 degree Hawaiian heat on another reconnaissance mission, we finally swam with a turtle we named...

Maui – The Island of Adjectives Mar08

Maui – The Island of Adjectives

This is part one of my blog posting on our trip to Maui. The second part can be found here I didn’t know quite what to expect when first landing on the island of Maui in the Islands of Hawai’i, America’s 50th state (being annexed in 1898) – my preconceptions had it as a sandy holiday paradise with golden beaches, Hawaiian Leis thrown around your neck as you land off the plane with Mai Tais being drank overlooking the lapping waves. And although I found some of these thrown into our couple-holiday mix, I also discovered a metallurgical diverse, enchanting, natural paradise that surprised, exceeded and surprised me almost every day. My palindromic girlfriend Hannah (as my great uncle reminded me mere days before boarding) and I landed on a sunny wind swept Wednesday evening and were checked into the backpacker hostel of choice on the island of Maui – Banana Bungalow, in Wailuku. Although not sporting free bananas, as the name may suggest, it did sport a most welcome hot tub, kitchen facilities, free tours of the island and a great lively backpacker community. We had split our holiday into two very diverse separate sections, the first half discovering the wonders of the East part of the island; waking up in the early hours to catch beautiful sunrises, making tantalizing trips to turtle town (I’m not making this alliteration up), and drives down the scenic, car stopping-every-mile Road to Hana, with the second half being a very much relaxed, beach lazing, sun burning, stereotypically Hawaiian getaway in the West. And so it was only 12 hours after setting foot on the original Sandwich Isles, we were up, awake and wide eyed trekking the 3 mile journey from our hostel up through the lush green ‘Iao Valley to take in the natural wonder that is the ‘Iao Needle. Protruding from the fertile rain-heavy sun soaked valley is a 1200ft spine of rock that tradition has it was Maui’s daughters lover, a Merman who swam up the ‘Iao river, whom Maui turned to stone to shelter his daughter from worldly temptations (dads and their daughters hey). The area reminded me of Jurassic Park – no wonder as the opening scenes were indeed filmed on the island, as the helicopter soars through ‘Isla Sorna’ to drop of its passengers in a ‘land that time forgot’. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Although an ultimately decisive battle had culminated in this spot in 1790, turning the rivers red from the blood of the stoic Maui warriors, we found the area very peaceful and tranquil, lush in vegetation and covered with greenery high up into the hills and cliffs surrounding the area. The final destination was most definitely worth a visit, however the trek up the coach-driven tourist heavy route was not, and so after a small hitch back to the main city of Kahului (where the main island airport resides, but now is generally considered a ‘functional’ town) we stocked up on food supplies and bussed it back to our hostel to relax, recharge and grab some small beach items to make an afternoon trip to the nearest beach worth visiting – another bus ride and small walk away….. 3 hours later and I started to get grumpy. ‘This beach is fine, the sand is nice, not many people are on it. Look nice white sand, oooo, nice white sand ….’ I complained and unconvincingly pleaded to Hannah. ‘But our map says the next one in 2 zillion miles is so much nicer’ retorts the ever-ready well-read Han. ‘Stupid tourist books’ I silently grumble. And so it was around 3pm, after walking 3 miles in flip flops down boring sun-pounding tarmacked roads we did indeed find ourselves watching the cool gnarly surfers, majestic wind surfers and funky new-age kite boarders cut shapes in the wind swept wave driven surf as...