A Travellerspoint blog

Finally made it to Cuba

Billy's first plane ride and our magical time in Havana

sunny 30 °C

Despite my parents giving Billy and I money towards tickets for Christmas to go to Cuba, we had never found the ideal time to actually go. Billy and I were at a local pool bar in Cabarete when we decided to start placing some high stakes bets on the outcomes of our amateur games. We often settle an argument with a game of pool, so it isn't an uncommon thing. More often than not though, it is about who gets to give a massage or who will cook dinner. This day however, I decided to throw down the idea that if Billy lost we would go to Cuba for our anniversary. I don't know if he lost on purpose - because he certainly doesn't usually lose, but he lost...

So a few days later, we booked and paid for our tickets and began to prepare for what would be our first international travels together - and Billy's first time off the island and in an airplane EVER! I think everyone else was more excited for him than he was, either that or he was trying to be too nonchalant and cool about the whole thing. He did swiftly kick the guy out from the window seat that Billy had sweetly smiled for at checkin, and then proceed to stare out of the window as we headed to Cuba by way of Panama.

It was ridiculous to fly such a short distance, what would usually be a 2 hour flight, via Panama. It meant that we took nearly 11 hours to arrive! But by now I have well and truly learned cheap flights is a great way to keep costs low in order to spend longer on the road. We landed in Cuba with only a slight hiccup - they nearly didn't let Billy in! They called secondary immigration to interrogate him.... Oh, how I love you secondary immigration. You never cease to remind me of that day in LAX where I was kept away from my parents in an armed room with 40 illegal immigrants and Temuera Morrison who looked at me compassionately as he sighed "They always do this to us Maori's." Anyway, this wasn't quite as strict as the USA and he merely had his passport examined with a magnifying glass and was asked some strange questions in regards to his position in the Dominican Republic. We had to laugh when we asked why he was held up - apparently a threat for Zika. Strange they didn't stop me, considering we came from the same country and how I'm Miss low immunity and covered in a million mosquito scars - when Billy never gets bit (the bastard!). We had no accommodation booked (breaking my usual rule of always having the first night planned) but thankfully our friend had given us a local card with an apartment address scrawled across it which was what finally bought his way through customs and we came away smiling as the hot pink Cuban stamp was issued into both of our passports, the first of many to come for Billy I am sure.

The smelly and old fashioned airport gave insight into what we were to expect over the next 2.5 weeks - stale smoke mixed with government enforced weekly fumigation were the overwhelming scents in every shop, home, hotel, bar, restaurant, and business we entered. We were bustled out into the waiting area where a thousand taxis, shuttles, and vendors wanted our attention. We decided to stupidly put our trust into the first person we saw - who told us he would take us to a money exchange that had a line shorter than the one tailing around the arrivals lounge. He also said he would take us to a casa particular in the centre of the city. Pfft, first Cuban trap - he did neither of those. And then promptly took our 40 euro as well as collecting his commission for dropping us at an overpriced apartment that resembled a stark hospital room.

We woke up early the next morning, packed our bags, and found our own way to a cadeca (money exchange) that gave us a better price for our euros as well as had us meeting our first Cuban friend who spent the morning showing us a little bit around town - and collecting free food and drinks from us - as we made our way towards what was our new home in the city of Havana.
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We loved walking around and seeing the beautiful buildings and the crazy old cars. We kept turning around each and every corner and there were so many! It was interesting to be in Cuba during the time of change and growth that it is experiencing now. There were many new and modern cars amongst the old american gas guzzlers.
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On one of the days, we finally worked out how to take the local transport through havana without having to pay like a tourist. It took asking about 20 people before one kind man gave us a truthful answer. We got in the beautiful old car (albeit slightly beaten up, but still running far better than my beetle ever did!) and asked him to take us in the direction of the number 13... which we believed to be around Miramar area. We drove along the melanin (boardwalk in english I think? The road that goes along the sea...) and finally got out to a wealthy looking area of the suburbs. The driver pulled over, looked at us and shrugged "this is the end of my route." We looked at each other and back to him as he queried, "Where are you two going?" and I replied "Well, maybe this was a bad idea because we have no idea where we are going!" He roared with laughter and told us that it was surely not a bad idea as we were only 2 streets away from the National Fair of artesian products - what luck! So off we went, paid a fortune to get in - only to have our first encounter with how Cuba really survives on the bare minimums. There was hardly anything at the fair, huge parts of the convention centre were empty, and what was there was at an absolutely ridiculous price - as was the $16 euro entry price that we had to pay as non-nationals. We left quickly, and found the worlds largest ice creams and ate them in the super hot sunshine before hightailing it back to the city.

Another of our days in Cuba, we visited the Museum of the Revolution which we had promised my father we would definitely check out. Wow, what a bizarre place! Their version of the revolution, the way everything was written and the story being told was absolutely fascinating. We were super impressed also by the building itself and the artifacts - which even included Che Guevara's hat !
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We drank overpriced Daiquiri's at Floriditas - one of the top 7 most famous bars in the world due to being the birth place of the Daiquiri and the frequent hangout spot of writer Ernest Hemingway.
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I loved how the local people would dress up either themselves or their pets and pose for pictures - and ask ridiculous amounts of money for them! Billy and I got super sneaky at taking sly photos and then just dropping a few local pesos into their collection baskets instead.

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We walked and walked and walked around Havana for what felt like years - but really was only 4 or 5 days. We refused to take taxis anywhere because they were so expensive, so we walked everywhere instead. It was great though because it meant we could stop where we wanted to take photos, to dance to live music in the parks, to browse through bookshops, and to partake in the local attractions.
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We even found an airgun shooting range where we could aim and fire at a range of different targets. I shot every single one of mine, and Billy even shot one of his so well that the target flipped off and fell to the ground! SAM_4792.jpgSAM_4791.jpg

We saw the camera obscura which is a weird contraption that uses mirrors and light refraction to show a live picture of the city on a huge disk inside an entirely dark room. I found it fascinating, especially because one of my favorite books as a child was called the Camera Obscura and I had always wanted to see one. There are only 5 in the entire world, so I jumped at the chance!
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We were super surprised by a few things in regards to our initial time in Cuba.

1. You are either Cuban or you are not. Speaking Spanish doesn't mean you get a discount on anything, which was a huge shock for me as my bilingualism has always served me ridiculously well as I have traveled my way through Latin America. Billy being a native speaker and from the neighboring Caribbean island made no difference either. We had to pay the full tourist prices pretty much everywhere we went.

2. The racism and the attitudes of the local people towards us was practically nonexistent. In the Dominican Republic - which I often refer to as the most racist country I have ever traveled to - it is almost impossible to walk down the street without people abusing us or racially profiling either of us. Billy of course is too black because of his Haitian/ African heritage, and I am the color of the tourist - which means I have (supposed) money and am to be worshipped, ridiculed, and extorted all at once. However, in Cuba this attitude didn't seem to exist. We could walk down the streets hand in hand and people barely even noticed us - let alone stare and then yell abuse! Billy of course knows nothing except the attitudes of the country he has grown up in, so for him it was a blissful insight to what life might be like in New Zealand if we ever do make the move home.

3. The difference between the local prices and the tourist prices were EXORBITANT! Trying to understand the two different currencies was something that took me a few days to wrap my head around, let alone poor Billy who had never worked in a new currency at all ! We had fistfuls of both local and tourist pesos and were forever confusing the two.

4. Most of the nice old cars are there for tourism. The really preserved and maintained ones work as private taxi and touring cars available for private hire (for nearly 60 euros an hour!!!). The older and less maintained ones are used as local transport which we took out to the artesian fair. Private cars seemed to be all newer models. Yet there were hardly ANY cars on the road when traveling between towns. It was very strange to see such wide and empty roads with no one traveling upon themSAM_4637.jpg
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5. The food really wasn't as bad as we were advised. Perhaps we had expected worse? Perhaps we are too used to Dominican food which can often be lacking in spices and taste - think never ending rice, beans, and chicken! The cheapest street food was mostly pizza and spaghetti which came with the saltiest, stringiest, oiliest cheese we know - and which we got very addicted to after initially hating it! And we got addicted to fresh churros with cinnamon and brown sugar !
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6. Everything is Cuban made. And if it isn't, it is is practically unaffordable. Most things have the same label or come from the same place - and you realize they are the communist version. Eg, you can only buy one brand of bottled water or soda etc.

7. The best drink in the entire world is Malta Bucanero - malted drink that is not too sweet and not too malta-ry. The best drink to cool you down during a super hot day in the Cuban sunshine. We must have drunk one each and every single day for our entire vacation!
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8. For a country that is so "un visited" they are certainly VERY set up for tourism. Official bus stations just for tourists to travel upon, official tours and treks in each town, hop on and hop off bus systems, home stays (casa particulares) where your details are registered everyday with the government to keep an eye on you, everything having two prices, and of course laws about keeping tourists and locals separate. Billy even nearly got arrested one day for walking with me as we entered our favorite locals only (shh, don't tell anyone we weren't local) breakfast spot. We had worked out how we could get 4 egg buns, 2 coffees and 2 juices for just 1 euro. He was suddenly surrounded by questions from 3 policemen while a further few waited at the door and on the street. All Billy had to do was say "Buenos dias" for the lead officer to speak into his walky-talky and tell his backup that "it doesn't matter, stand down - he is a foreigner too like her..." We did of course think that was super exciting to have nearly been arrested for being together!

9. The propaganda and patriotism is EVERYWHERE! Reminders of the revolution and encouragement for socialistic practices are painted beautifully on most public spaces.
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10. It was in Havana that we took our most favourite photo of our trip :

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Posted by chasingsummer 12:01 Archived in Cuba Tagged walking city fun havana hot adventures touring exploring old_cars Comments (0)

forgotten blog

nearly a year without an entry

sunny 30 °C

I feel as if I have abandoned this blog completely.

I don't know if this is because I haven't been traveling so much? Perhaps because coming back to the Dominican Republic has felt ever so slightly like I have come back home and am no longer traveling? Which is crazy, because I am forever doing new and exciting things here and experiencing different cultures.

Billy and I are still loving life, and are actually running a hostel and our own school now. Maybe that is another reason why my blog has been left behind - a lack of time and energy to sit down and write about my own daily adventures when there is so much to do for everyone else?

I do know that I will be forever sad if I do not try to update this somehow.

One of the great things that happened was being given permission to redecorate part of Billy's house in Santo Domingo:
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We went to Bahia de las Aguilas with Mati and Ola and a group of great people for a few nights of fun in paradise

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I watched the allblacks win the world cup with Billy in his all natural All Blacks teeshirt and a friend who I met who is from Argentina, yet he travels with an Allblacks official teeshirt!
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Billy and I found my favourite waterfall and second favourite place in the entire country (second to bahia of course)
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I had my first hot shower in 5 months and didn't get out for 45 minutes straight, only to get out and have 5 more equally long hot showers in 48 hours.
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Billy and I head to Cuba in 10 days for two weeks and then straight to Haiti for a week or so when we get back. I have promised myself I will keep this going with all of the adventures of our time in Cuba and Haiti. But before I do that, it would be nice to add a few pics in here to kind of keep track of the past year.

Major events since my last entry :

1. I had a cockroach removed from my ear after waking up at 5am with the feeling of something at the entrance to my ear... I put my finger there, felt something and then SCREAMED the house down as it entered my ear canal. Billy tried everything to get it out - sucking at it, pincers, and then pouring water to get it out... which resulted to it's flapping to death in my ear. The worst moment of my entire life, followed by 5 hours and visiting 5 hospitals to finally find one that could help - talk about third world problems!

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2. My parents came to visit me - which was incredible! We toured all around the Dominican Republic and had lots of family time together and with Billy's family before heading to Puerto Rico where we adventured and went to an offshore island called Vieques. The highlight there was going to the worlds brightest bioluminescent bay where we could kayak underneath the stars and watch the glowing plankton light up our trail. It was so amazing to splash and pour the water everywhere and watch the tiny lights flash! Even better was kayaking really fast and watching the fish dart away from us. I was paired up with some guy who was more than happy to play the fool with me, and we were trying to go as fast as possible when we were sure we saw a stingray lit up underneath the water! Sadly photos just do not work, but wow was it incredible!
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3. Billy and I opened up our own school in Santo Domingo that works with children who are working in crime and sex work as a way to put food on the table for their families. Most of our children are living illegally in the country due to the political beaurocracy between Haiti and Dominican Republic. Our school teaches our children alternative ways to make money, using recycling and trash to create necessary items to sell within their community. We have just renovated the bathrooms, the kitchen, and put up the school gate. Thankfully to many kind hearted donors we have stationary, books, school equipment, and a full professional baseball set of equipment!
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4. Billy and I moved out of Santo Domingo back to Cabarete and to the castle where I worked at the beginning of 2015. When we took over, there were absolutely ZERO guests and a lot of debt. Somehow we managed to completely turn everything around - we cleared the debt super quickly and for 3 months of high season we managed to have people begging to sleep on our couches because we were so full. We have been having the most amazing time here, enjoying meeting all of our new friends from all over the world - as well as relishing the opportunity to save money, learn to surf, and live closer to the cleaner and greener part of the island with swimmable ocean very nearby. We have a wonderful team of staff here with us and we are very lucky to have been given this opportunity to live and work here in the castle together!
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5. I had one of the most amazing birthdays of my entire life - three birthday cakes, an entire week of celebrations, and a huge party to celebrate! I was completely spoiled by so many of the wonderful friends I have met here in Cabarete and felt incredibly lucky to be surrounded and cared for by such amazing human beings.
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6. My birthday of course followed Christmas which was incredible at the castle - a sit down lunch for 45 people was served, present swapping game was played for an hour, and we even had our very own santa Klaus who delivered the gifts! We had a Christmas tree made from Rum bottles which was one of the highlights for sure.
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6. I learned to drive a motorbike - one with gears but no clutch... next step, one with clutch! :)

7. I am super excited about the next few months ahead - Cuba, Haiti, cousin Sarah visiting me for a crazy time through Vegas and LA, Mexico to visit my wonderful friends there, and then back to LA to see Grace who is coming all the way over for her 10th birthday Disneyland spree with me. I just can't believe there can be so many good things about to happen in such a short space of time.

I promise it won't be another 8 months before the next entry... even for my own records if nothing else :)

Posted by chasingsummer 17:01 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

To Costa Rica

the worst 48 hours in a city ever!

I feel as if I really did not do any justice to Nicaragua or to Costa Rica. I saw merely the tourist attractions in my time in Nicaragua - volcano boarding down the active volcano was amazing, but it wasn't exactly an indigenous pastime, neither was Sunday Funday! I had plans to go to the cloud forest in Costa Rica after my time in San Juan del Sur but the bus drove us right on past and straight into the capital city of San Jose! When I say 'us', I am referring to a couple of kiwi boys I met on the bus that took us over the border. And whoaaa, what a border crossing too... After being stripped of our passports, we were left standing on the side of the road for hours...and hours... Thankfully, I met a local guy who helped me rig up my phone to get free internet for my entire time in Costa Rica which certainly kept me entertained... and able to help everyone to find accommodation since our arrival time to the big city was no longer mid afternoon and would be closer to midnight.
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He also entertained me (and the others with me translating) by telling crazy stories of all the drug busts and raids that happen at the borders. He couldnt understand our disappointment at not seeing anything exciting when he told us that just the day before, 18 Mexicans had been involved in a shootup with the immigration police when they were busted carrying 16 kilos of cocaine strapped to each of their bodies. He laughed and said how he had heard people from New Zealand were crazy, but that we needed to trust him it was lucky we were crossing on a good day. It felt like we were waiting forever out in the hot sun for someone to stamp the huge pile of passports. Everyone was freaking out and nobody seemed to speak Spanish as we were all traveling across the border in the VIP way - the expensive intercity bus rather than by local transport. I didnt want to have to pay the intercity bus price (nearly $50USD) but I had heard it was safer when traveling alone across central American borders so I followed the advice and did it anyway. And jokes aside, I was glad after hearing all of the scary stories from the locals I spoke to at the border!
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Finally we got our passports back and were then delivered to a different immigration building where there were actual x-ray scanners and officers who seemed official - Welcome to Costa Rica. The difference between Nicaragua and Costa Rica was very obvious. The landscape did not differ so much, but the official-ness, the quality of the roads and buildings was far more 1st world, and there was very very little trash anywhere. The Kiwi boys and I found a hostel and checked ourselves in for the night. We went and grabbed a midnight feast for dinner and I was up early the next day for an adventure around the city of San Jose.
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I managed to find two girls at the hostel who were keen to go on an adventure. They needed help with Spanish to get simcards for their phone and to organise a few things as they had both just arrived from overseas. So off we went together and explored a little bit of the capital city.

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I was constantly impressed by the lack of trash everywhere, the trash cans for recycling, and the almost 1st world like functioning of the city. However, with these things also came the 1st world attitude that I had forgotten existed after a year in the 3rd world. Why couldn't I get a free cup of coffee with my breakfast? Why can't I cross the street whenever I want and just blow a kiss at the traffic who all stop to whistle for me as I pass? Why can't I get two for the price of one because you like my smile? Why must I follow the hostel rules and take my luggage with me for the day? In fact, this last problem caused me to have a screaming fight with reception as the WORST hostel in the history of my travels refused to watch my luggage despite saying they have a store room on their website. I was so mad. I ended up having to pay a separate hostel to watch my bag and to take me to the airport in a private tour shuttle to avoid carrying my bags around for 16 hours. They offered me a night in their hostel at an extortionate rate and then almost scoffed at me when I said no, I would prefer to sleep on the airport floor than pay $30USD to sleep in their hostel for 5 hours. Ooooh was I mad! I just couldn't understand why everything was the price that the sticker said. Or why the receptionists could not break the rules. I have not been met with such ridiculous rules and stubborness over following the system in... well, a year! And it was awful! Everywhere I went, people were in lines and the men would not let the women in front. Shops closed at closing time and not when there were no more customers (I tried to get my hair washed and blow dried but noooooo, no more customers after 30 minutes before closing time) and buses counted exact change and said no if we didnt have the right change! I couldn't believe it, and felt myself desperately missing the wave of a kiss and a giant smile bringing happiness to myself and people around me. I missed the slow pace of life, the easiness of waiting in a line when everyone around becomes an instant friend.

Anyway, we found ourselves walking through art galleries and eating in overprices cafes where we had real coffee (without UHT milk and 5000 teaspoons of sugar), and in our destination of the Costa Rican butterfly sanctuary. The butterflies were so pretty and of all different shapes and colours.

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We saw giant turtles and watched movies about how the wildlife in Costa Rica is so cared for and how they would be the first country in the world to close down every single zoo. I found myself suddenly wishing desperately that I had more money so that I could see more of Costa Rica and it's famed wildlife, but i knew it would just have to wait. I figured it wouldn't matter that it was expensive and a country that followed the rules of society - it was clean and it was beautiful and they followed environmental procedures that I truly believed in.
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We headed to a mall - that turned out to be the largest mall I have EVER been to in my life. It was absolutely huge, and 4 hours was not enough to do even a lap of the entire place! I picked up a few 1st world things that I knew I would want from. I just remember feeling lost and afraid by the extreme consumerism that accompanied living in 1st world conditions. My credit card was trembling with desire, and I was trembling with fear so we made a hasty exit to where I fare-welled the girls and found refuge in a local market where I binged on street food and squabbled over prices of second hand goods - felt like home again!
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I managed to get out of the city and to the airport in my overpriced shuttle, where I then had my final fight with the Costa Rican system - and lost. I was forced to buy an exit ticket out of the Dominican Republic or they wouldn't allow me to board my flight. Oh how I tried to fight, I tried to flutter my eyelashes, I tried to scam and show a fake ticket, but there was nothing more that I could do - I was forced to charge my credit card with a $250 flight to Puerto Rico that I knew I would never use. After more research, I have descovered that Costa Rica is the only airport in Latin America that does this to everyone and the way to get out of it only requires simple pre-planning... I stormed through immigration, realising that I had wasted the money I could have used to see sloths and gone ziplining in the cloud forests, drank all the free coffee and ate the free chocolate in the gift shops, and then refused to spend another cent in the extortionately overpriced country that seemed to want to do nothing but suck up to the man himself.

I'm sure the country is lovely out of the city, and I wish I could have had the opportunity to find this out for myself. I have never been a fan of any cities, and it was a shock to be thrown into an (almost) 1st world lifestyle without warning. However, it was most definitely time to return to my Caribbean island, with all its charms, flaws, and 3rd world problems - and to my Billy.

Posted by chasingsummer 14:04 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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We stopped multiple times on the way up to catch our breath
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And to look out over the amazing countryside of Nicaragua
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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!
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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.
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We got dressed into our delightful orange jumpsuits
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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Posted by chasingsummer 10:08 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

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