A Travellerspoint blog

August 2015

Sunday Funday

Leon, Granada, San Juan del sur in Nicaragua

sunny 35 °C

I spent the day after volcano boarding in Leon walking around, exploring the shops and the little cafes, enjoying the market, and chatting with my new friends at the hostel. Two other Kiwis who had gone volcano boarding with me; Fyfe and Erin and naturally we clicked in that true Kiwi way – where we effortlessly understand each other’s jokes, love a good party, and chase the adrenalin. They were also broke like me and weren’t sure of what to do next, but wanted to see a little more of Nicaragua. We decided to head to Granada, the 6th largest city in Nicaragua, but also rumoured to be one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America.
They were not wrong!
I usually hate cities, find them all to be far too similar; smog, traffic, too many people and many of whom are unfriendly, overpriced, and lacking in beauty. Granada was different; the architecture was just beautiful, the streets were wide and safe to walk down (felt so anyway), and the people we met were friendly and helpful.
We found ourselves wandering in and out of beautiful buildings, admiring churches, tasting all different types of street food, and swimming in the pool of our hostel. The night we arrived was ladies night – where all women drink rum for free. We couldn’t believe our luck; not cheap, not half price, but FREE RUM! So naturally, off we headed and with a great plan – Fyfe would buy one drink so he had the normal cup, and we would top him up with our “ladies” cups of free rum. Nothing like a bit of Kiwi ingenuity – next thing we were dancing and stumbling our way home after more than 30 glasses of free rum! BRILLIANT! Yet, I have no idea how the bar made even a cent because I couldn’t see anyone there drinking anything else!
The following day we made our way to the chicken bus station and caught a bunch of different buses south through Nicaragua. We saw the Capital (and very gross) city of Managua, and tried a whole lot of different juice and fruits from street vendors on our way south. We had decided to go to see the city of San Juan del sur where they have a pretty well-known backpacker town by the sea, right on the border of Costa Rica. Since Costa Rica was my destination, it all worked perfectly. I was sad I wouldn’t have a chance to see much of Lake Ometepe or have the chance to go over to the island in the middle that is made from two volcanos. We did get to drive right around it and it didn’t call to me in the same way that Lake Atitlan had. The rumours of the terrible pollution in Lake Ometepe put me off from visiting the island too, apparently many of the hostels were filled with drug addicts and parties of that type – something I have been desperately trying to avoid after too much time in a certain hostel that was that way inclined earlier in my travels.
Anyway, we finally arrived in San Juan del sur with two girls who we had met on the journey. We all checked into our hostel (The Surfing Donkey) and Erin and I went for a walk around town while Fyfe caught up on some stuff at the hostel. While Erin and I had our adventure we bumped into SO MANY PEOPLE that we knew from our time together in Nicaragua, and her and my earlier travels. I ran into people that I had met with Erie in Guatemala, and people from Colombia as well. Everyone was in San Juan del sur for Sunday Funday which is a weekly pool crawl – the biggest pool crawl in the world, where the party rotates around all of the different hostel pools. Erin, Fyfe, and I had decided it was just too expensive and we were not going to be able to go along to it. Erin and I continued our exploring and it was quite a cool place. Famous outside of Sunday Funday for it's nearby surf beaches its laid back vibe, we could see why it was so full of backpackers. We found a pretty beach with a huge Jesus statue looking down over the sea and town. The 3rd biggest statue of Jesus in the world!
When we got back to the hostel, Erin received a message from her old work in Florida, USA. A lady had come into the restaurant where Erin was waitressing and had asked that some money was passed on to Erin. Apparently the lady had felt a very strong desire since March (remember this was now the last weekend in June), that God was wanting the lady to give the money over to Erin. So naturally, when God gives you money when you are staying in the city with the world’s 3rd largest Jesus statue, and you are short of money to go to one of the world’s biggest pool party which is also the town’s main attraction – what do you do? You go with your friends to the party of course, God’s shout!
And all I can say is – wow! It was one of the best large scale parties I have ever been to. Forget full moon party in Thailand. Forget Jungle party. Forget party boats. Forget beach parties. Forget highscale clubs – partying with backpackers in hostel pools in the south of Nicaragua is the way to go.
Everyone was on such an amazingly happy vibe; I drank just 4 rums all day. I didn’t even need to drink as I was having just so much fun dancing, doing bombs, swimming, chatting to friends, and loving live.
And at one point, the rain began to pour and the thunder was crashing. I looked at Fyfe who yelled at me – oh shit Katy, we might get wet – in that typically sarcastic way of speaking that us Kiwis have. I looked at him and grinned as we both sprinted our way over to bomb into the pool. We looked out over the sea, and I’m pretty sure it’s not merely a coincidence that the only part of the sky with sunshine in it was right over the beautiful statue of Jesus.DSC02541.jpg
I am so glad I got to go, and so glad I went along with Taco boy Fyfe and Erin. They were the best brother and sister team and there were just so many laughs and good conversations as we made our way through the western side of Nicaragua together. I’m sad I wasn’t able to see so much more of Nicaragua that I would still like to see – but I hope to make another trip as soon as I can.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:14 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

El Salvador - Honduras - Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding

sunny 30 °C

After Erie left me in Santa Ana, I wasn’t too sure what to do with myself. I had already decided that I was going to fly back to Billy in the Dominican Republic but I could not afford to do so from Guatemala or El Salvador. The prices of the tickets were nearly the same as a flight to New Zealand! I searched as many options as I could and saw that there were cheap flights from Costa Rica to Santo Domingo. Despite the distance of 2 countries between myself and where my flight would depart from – I decided to take a couple of weeks to explore some more of Central America before flying back to the Caribbean. I spent a couple of extra days in Santa Ana; making the most of the Wi-Fi to skype everyone I hadn’t spoken to in forever. I made my way to San Salvador and got totally lost. Thankfully I found a lovely group of ladies in a floristry shop (I figured I could trust people who work with flowers, Katy logic) who I chatted to for a while before they called me a taxi which got me cheaply and safely to my hostel in San Salvador (a city well known as being a super dangerous gang city). It was from there that I caught a bus at 5am the following morning (after being delivered safely by the same taxi as the day before); south through El Salvador and through (murder capital of the world) Honduras with the final destination of Leon, Nicaragua. There was no other way to get there that I could afford, so I did what had been recommended – travel on the more expensive bus, travel only by day, and do border crossings with the group rather than alone. And thankfully, everything worked out to be absolutely fine!
The border crossings were ridiculous, it seemed as though there wasn’t even a border – or a procedure! We seemed to be led through some very dodgy looking warehouses where security (I presume) would half-heartedly search our belongings before pointing us down dingy corridors towards little ticket booths that would either scan our passports, take money from us, or point us on somewhere else after asking a weird question. Everywhere were people begging for money or trying to sell whatever they could, people offering to exchange money, kids grabbing at my backpack hoping to be my bellboy, all surrounded by massive trucks that were loading and unloading goods – one 18 wheeler was stuffed completely with air conditioning/ heat pump units and another with nothing but toilet paper!

The drive through Honduras took about 4 hours and I literally saw nothing but grass and fields. I took merely a few steps on Honduras land, yet was awarded the stamps that I didn’t get (despite spending 6 nights) in El Salvador. It seemed as if the bus trip wasn’t as long as I had expected, it was mid-afternoon when the driver yelled out “Kiwi, you are here in Leon!” as I had earlier explained to him I was not a gringa and instead a Kiwi.
Leon itself was a lovely city, I believe the second biggest in Nicaragua after Managua. Everything seems to just appear suddenly out of nowhere as the city is surrounded by farms and in the distance the line of volcanos.
One of those volcanos, Cerro Negro, was the reason I had come to Leon – VOLCANO BOARDING!
After hearing about volcano boarding when I had first gone to Casa Elemento in July 2014, I finally made it to Big Foot Hostel in Leon where I could do it myself in June 2015. Not bad, it took just 11 months to get there! The hostel itself was set in a really cool old building and there was beer pong happening at 3pm when I arrived. I soon joined the fun and managed to convince everyone to play beerpong and just have me as their “special guest shot” so that I didn’t have to drink all the beer (because I am terrible at both beer pong and drinking beer). However, it didn’t last for long and it was soon decided that I must play rum pong since I don’t drink beer…
I shall skip straight to the next morning because that is exactly what happened – I lost the game of rum pong (although, I must ask how drinking 10 cups of rum can be considered losing) and then woke up at 8am in my bed only to down some food and get shoved onto a giant tank shaped, bright orange bus with a whole lot of other adrenaline junkies like myself.
We drove for about an hour out of Leon and through the surrounding countryside. When we finally got to the foot of the volcano I was in shock at the size of it – a reoccurring theme for my time in central America; continuously shocked at the size of the volcano about to be climbed.
First of all, we had to pay our volcano entrance fee and sign our life away. Then we were each given a bag that contained our overalls and a pair of goggles to protect our eyes when going down the volcano. Then we were given our boards to carry – but there was no way I was going to make it to the top alive if I had to carry that - so the local man was thrilled when I gave him a couple of dollars to carry mine up for me!
We stopped multiple times on the way up to catch our breath
And to look out over the amazing countryside of Nicaragua
The walk up to the top was hot, and windy, and quite strenuous in parts – I felt for the others carrying their boards and was really glad I didn’t have mine as I was still suffering from rumpong!
At the top, we all posed for some pictures together and alone if we wanted to, the guide was really cool and took as many pictures as we wanted. It meant we could leave our cameras behind and not worry about having them damaged.
We got dressed into our delightful orange jumpsuits
Finally, it was time to go down the mountain. We had been told that this was the place of where some bike rider had first tried to break the land speed record and broken every bone in his body when he came off. We were also told how the owners of BigFoot had first tried riding down on surfboards and fridge doors before finally creating what we were to use today. We were told how to ride it, some of the others were sad they couldn’t stand up and go down (clearly snow boarders) but I was nervous enough as it was with the seated position!
One of the guys went first, and I knew there was no way I was going to be left up the top. So when he asked which girl wanted to go first – down I went. And man, I could not stop laughing! Maybe nerves, or just the sheer amount of fun, it was so cool to be sliding my way down an active volcano.
At one point I was going quite fast – or at least it felt that way. The dust and ash was shooting past me and after breaking my foot sand duning many years ago, I was too afraid to try and slow myself down
Finally, the track started to slow me down and I realised I was already at the bottom. What had taken an hour to climb took just seconds to descend. The guy who clocked my speed told me that I reached 25mph. I was gutted – the highest female score is 95mph. But in fairness – everyone who boarded that day agreed that the guy didn’t clock our speed until way after we reached the point where we all slowed down. We waited at the bottom for everyone to make their way down, cheering each other on as they slid and crashed their way down to the bottom. There were a few tumbles but mostly everyone made it down in one smooth ride.
We piled back into the truck, some of us were completely covered in ash and soot and rocks. The guides handed us beer and cookies for the trip back. Once we got back to the hostel it was free mojito time while watching the photos on the big screen.
I must say, Big Foot did such a great job of organising everything – getting us there, taking the photos, giving us our teeshirts, organising the boards and the overalls, and then of course the beer, cookies, and mojitos on the way back. They uploaded the photos to facebook for us all to have them straight away and didn’t charge us a cent for the pics. I was so impressed and so happy with myself to have ticked off such an AWESOME thing from my travel bucket list.

Posted by chasingsummer 10:08 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

El Salvador

beach, mountains, and sad goodbyes

sunny 50 °C

Erie and I had spent far too much of our time in Guatemala being cold. Despite Erie picking up a sunburn (somehow…) on her first day in Antigua, we had been wearing jackets, had been sick with colds, and I was suffering due to lack of appropriate clothing and my terrible lungs. Erie desperately wanted to go to Leon, Nicaragua with me to do volcano boarding but it just seemed like too much time sitting in a bus (it would have been over 48 hours in 5 days) in order to get her back to her flight on time. Other than skipping her flight home (my grand suggestion) we decided to instead hop on a 5 hour bus down to El Salvador and spend a couple of days at the beach and maybe go into the mountains.
We boarded the bus from Antigua (Big Foot hostel really was our base for our time in Guatemala as we seemed to return there between our other destinations) and we arrived at El Tunco around 2pm. Our driver was on crack, I swear it. He made several inappropriate jokes at the borders about selling everyone’s kidneys as he pulled out a large knife – he wanted all except mine because I was the only one who spoke Spanish.
He drove like a maniac and everyone was convinced we were going to die! He seemed to be totally oblivious to the fear he was putting us through, chuckling wickedly as we squealed and held our breath around each dodgy corner and close call. Finally, Erie and I were free and we arrived in the tiny town of El Tunco. Known as a bit of a surfer haven for most of the year we were immediately overwhelmed by the strength of the heat. We could do nothing more than sit in the pool with the rest of the hostel – for about 10 hours a day! On one of the mornings we woke up and saw that it was 38 degrees at only 9am! We went out to party one of the nights and met some cool locals who took us dancing. The town itself seemed to pop out of nowhere once venturing down a side street from the main highway.
It reminded me a lot of Cabarete, the town I lived in the north coast of the Dominican Republic, or how Cabarete would have been maybe 30 years ago.
Sadly the beach was covered in a lot of chunky rocks, something about that time of year brings thousands of them up onto the beach for a couple of months. We saw the beach during the evening but decided not to venture far from the swimming pool due to the torturous rocks that blocked our desired swim in the pacific. After two nights in the world’s worst ventilation – 4 fans that did NOTHING, we moved ourselves on to the mountain town of Santa Ana where we had heard there was a fantastic hostel (Casa Verde) run by a friendly (slightly OCD –but in the good way), overly organised, kindhearted man named Carlos. And boy, where the stories true! The most organised, functioning, he-has-thought-of-everything hostel (with the continent’s best wifi connection) was buried within a typically grotty Latin American city. We were able to breathe, enjoy the sunshine, and move without drowning in our own sweat as the town was at the perfect altitude to give both heat and a fresh breeze. We wandered around the market, found a gorgeous cathedral and centre of town, and we found a place to get super cheap pedicures together.

We faced two choices for our last full day together – a food market or a hike up another volcano. As we had already gorged ourselves on food during our time together (family feast, 20 pieces of fried chicken, and the burritos from heaven) we thought that our souls may be happier if we burned a few of the million calories off rather than adding them on. The other factor being of course, a vegetarian may not do too well at a food festival famous for barbequing lizards on sticks! So, another early morning had us up and walking up the road to catch a public bus through the city and out into the wilderness to the base of what looked like A HUGE WALK OF DEATH!
But off we walked, sadly to discover that the first part included descending the mountain we were already standing on top of. I knew we were going to have to walk back up it at the end too and I was not at all impressed! However, there was no backing out now – the bus to the food festival was long missed, and so we kept going…
The hike was not for the faint of heart - I fell over a couple of times, and Erie fell once badly on the way back. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought. And the views on the way up were spectacular!
I had to laugh at one point when there was a man who had hiked up with his ice creams and frozen chocolate bananas – naturally we stopped for a feast on the side of the volcano! 90_DSC02469.jpgDSC02485.jpg
The last part up the volcano was quite rough. There were parts where we had to literally scrabble up on our hands and knees because it was really hard to find where the main track was. DSC02462.jpg
Once we got to the top, the crater lake was amazing to look down into. The colour of the water was like a milky Caribbean sea!
The lake was boiling away, and there was no way down to the bottom to get any closer. It was actually really scary to stand on the top because the cold wind was blowing so fiercely that it really felt as if it might blow us down into it!
Watching the people with their selfie sticks standing far too close was a great source of amusement for us both, and the screams and grabbing for each other was almost unbearable as we waited for someone to fly off! Thankfully no one did and soon enough everyone was trudging back down the volcano and then up the other mountain to make it back for the bus home!

Once we got back to the entrance (after what felt like an eternity climbing back up the first mountain we stopped for snacks and drinks. We were literally cheering each other on and pushing our way past lazy and slow people who didn’t understand the Kiwi determination of “get to the top quickly so we can die there.” But the snacks were well worth it – including pupusas which are like a cornflour patty filled with beans, cheese, and optional meats, some strange tapa style delicacies made from yucca and corn, and the most delicious fruit I ever tried…
The Paterna is a huge green bean shaped fruit that has cotton candy textured (and flavoured!) fruit surrounding the beans on the inside. The white, sweet, cotton candy part is the part to be devoured and my god, it is DELICIOUS!
We finally made it back onto the bus, absolutely exhausted and ready to make our way back to our hostel. We fell asleep on the rickety old bus and made it back to the hostel where we collapsed in front of a movie with a giant pizza to share between us for our final night together.

The next morning was a sad one, helping Erie to pack her things into her overstuffed backpack, and realising that our wonderful 3 weeks together had come to an end. We had done so much, seen so many amazing places, and been so active together. I was so proud that our time together had included partying but not been only about that. We had toasted marshmallows over lava, jumped off a cliff into a sacred lake, hiked up two active volcanos, swam in a hot water waterfall, gone caving underground using only candles for light, swam in the most beautiful turquoise tiered water holes set in the jungle, partied on top of a mountain as we celebrated my one year on the road milestone, and we had talked and laughed and cried together as we caught up on all of the gossip from a year apart.

Erie, I love you so much and I am so grateful that you came to join me on this crazy adventure – and so glad that you had a great time having your own adventures both with me and after me when you spent a couple of days in LA. I hate not knowing when the universe will bring us back together, but I feel confident knowing that it will. And that when it does, as was before, it will feel as though nothing has changed at all.


Posted by chasingsummer 15:39 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

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