What better time to travel than now? After completing Peace Corps service, Peace Corps rewards its volunteers with a "readjustment allowance," to help them with the transition into life after PC, which is a little money that can go toward an apartment not made of mud, clothing that is rat-bite free, or for a bit of traveling before returning. On top of this, I am used to developing-country standards regarding transport, housing, and convenience (amongst other things) and therefore am apt to handle any travel conditions. (Is air-mail the quickest and cheapest way to get to Peru? I'm in! I'll pop out of that box refreshed and ready to go.) Also, I can speak spanish and have been living in a Latin American country for two years From my experience so far, language is one of the most important factors for being accepted into a culture, and basic communication is essential for not getting stuck in tourist traps with other gringos the whole time. Natives seem to appreciate when a foreigner makes an effort to learn the language of the country they are visiting, and it can make a huge difference in one's visit. With those factors in mind, I decided to buy a plane ticket returning stateside from Peru on July 19. Let the little adventures abroad continue!
-Being a tourist in Nicaragua for the first time:
It was liberating being freed of work, with nothing but exploration on my horizon. I took Frances on her final death bus ride from Managua to the southern department of San Jorge, the port city, and took a ferry to the famous Ometepe. It's incredible how Nicaragua's finest tourist attractions and still so raw. It is a beautiful yet extremely underdeveloped country, which can be off-putting. Only the most hardcore tourists deserve to enjoy the beauty of this country, and must be prepared to take cold showers, sleep in hot rooms without air-conditioning, or take a ride in a taxi that would pass car safety standards (but 99% of the time, it's fine!). To enjoy Nicaragua, one has to be prepared to break the rules, because we just kind of make them up as we go. With that being said, Frances and I were able to rent scooters after a 5 minute tutorial (as neither of us have ever driven them), and cruise the roads that figure-8 the two volcanoes, I highly recommend renting dirtbikes or scooters on the island, as there is so much too and visit, and being the boss of your timetable allows you to enjoy activities more. After Ometepe, Frances and I went to the infamous San Juan del Sur, one of the most world-renowned spots in Nicaragua. In my opinion, Nicaragua has so much more to boast than bars full of drunken surfers, but if one has the time, might as well check it out, there are several beautiful beaches near that area. It was an appropriate way to start my non-PC time in Nicaragua by visiting one of the most gringo-y places in the country after renting scooters, something prohibited by PC policy. Whoo, rebel!!
|Scooters on Ometepe with the active volcano Concepcion in the background|
-From a chicken bus to the Tica Bus:
Stop number one- Costa Rica! To get to Costa Rica from Nicaragua, one can fly, or take the much cheaper, 7 hour bus ride from Rivas, Nicaragua, to San Jose, Costa Rica. The bus is air conditioned, takes bathroom breaks, and has enough seats for passengers; therefore it was already classified as luxury status in my book. Frances, Blake and I begin our dream team travels the morning of Monday, June 10. Border crossing wasn't hard for us, although I hear that Costa Rica wants to see that people entering their country have a definite plan to leave it. Therefore, if your plane or bus ticket is only one way, you NEED to show them that you have a flight or bus out. Plan accordingly. If this doesn't get in your way, the border crossing is relatively painless. We took Tica Bus, there is also Nica Express and Trans Nica, all air-conditioned, and therefore wonderful. Note: pack a parka for the buses.
-San Jose for the night:
Alas! After a smooth ride, Frances, Blake and I arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was cold!! When we first arrived, I actually had no idea that were had actually reached our destination (I hadn't been to San Jose in over two years) but got off the bus because everyone else was doing it. San Jose, Costa Rica, we had arrived! We saw clean streets, and people forming lines to get on the public transportation. Blake had tears of joy in his eyes as he watched passengers orderly wait in line to get on the bus. We only had the afternoon in San Jose, as the next day we had a shuttle arranged to take us the the beautiful Bocas del Torro, a Carribean archipelago of Panama. My friend Frances had come and roughed it with me for a week in my Nicaraguan territory, and now it was time for her to show me Bocas, where she lived and worked for 7 months starting May 2011.Therefore, we spent our one day in San Jose walking around the central area, which has a beautiful national theater building. We stayed at the same hostel I'd stayed at before with Frances and Matt (shoutout Matt Straney!) when we came 3 years ago, Pangea, which was actually the first hostel I'd ever stayed in (the first of many!). The hostel had hot water! Development at its finest...
-From Costa Rica to Panama
DIY is definitely the way to go for cutting out extravagant tour agency fees, but is oh-so-worth-it sometimes to not have to think about 3 bus transfers and the logistics of a ten-hour trek, which is what we had ahead of us to get from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Bocas del Torro, Panama. In this case, Frances had worked for us us a $45 deal on a normally $70 dollar trip so we said "done!" We got picked up in a sweet micro-van and cruised through Costa Rica to it's famous Puerto Viejo. On the way in, I noticed that the country was incredibly lush, and the country was so vibrantly green. I hope it's started raining in Nicaragua....
After lunch Puerto Viejo (San Jose-Puerto is 5-6 hours, depending of labor strikes and traffic, which we encountered), we hopped on another bus to Changiola, the Costa Rica border town. Crossing the border consisted of walking a decrepit bridge over the Sixaola river while Panama waited on the other side.
|The border to Panama|
After losing Frances in Bocas (sad face), Blake and I were destined for Panama City. From Bocas, it is a short ten hour bus ride, which we had reserved tickets for a week in advance. Therefore, it was a little disheartening as we got to our water taxi to take us to the mainland we were given back our money, without bus tickets, and told that "our reservation still existed at the bus station." We got to the bus, and both night buses were full. Thankfully, our new friend Canadian Bill told us about a city 6 hours away where buses left for Panama City at more frequent intervals. David, Panama, here we come!
|Frances and I being exhausted after vacationing too hard|
We arrived at David around 9:45 pm, just in time for the 10pm bus. Which was also full. Who knew that so many people would be traveling to Panama City the Monday night after Father's Day? There was a 12 am bus that still had availability, so Canadian Bill, Blake and I signed right up. Panama has great buses for long distance travel, and I got my first double-decker bus experience, it was sweet! After a red-eye ride, we role into Panama City around 7:30am with our mochilas and a desire to see the famous canal.
|Panama City Fish Market|