Cooking class, salsa dancing, collectivos and lots of shots. #mymexico

After my parents left Mexico I headed inland to explore Mérida, San Cristóbal de las Casa and Oaxaca. All three cities are gorgeous and quite different. First stop, the absolutely beautiful and oppressively hot Mérida. I had been really excited to visit Mérida because I had heard about it for years. A popular “traditional Mexican” place to study abroad. By the time I arrived I was pretty beat. I had such a good and fairly busy time with my parents I just needed to relax. Also it was HOT. Like cook an egg on the sidewalk hot. I thankfully found a great hostel with an even better pool! I was totally the lazy traveler. I slept in and spent the majority my first days floating in/reading a book next to the pool.

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Hammocks + pool = greatest thing ever!

 

I mean, when that’s the pool who can blame me? By day 3 I was feeling kind of guilty so I did a self-guided walking tour of the town. Lovely as expected. Not expected? These LIVE bejeweled bugs. WTF? I didn’t fully understand but it had something to do with a legend of young lovers and someone getting jealous and turning them into a bug.

 

Weird, right? The second half of the week I met Eileen, a super fun German girl. We decided to stop being lazy and go exploring. We quickly met some more cool people and had a few great nights out. If you’re ever in Mérida I highly recommend La Negrita – looks like nothing from the outside but an awesome bar/restaurant with live music inside. We made some local friends mentioned that we wanted to go salsa dancing. From there we walked approximately forever and then ended up at a Mezcaleria (Mezcal bar) for the night. The bar was PACKED and there was an amazing band playing and absolutely everyone was dancing. Two obvious gringas got a lot of attention, welcomed with open – sweaty arms by everyone in the club. Literally everyone – guys, girls, members of the band all wanted to teach us how to salsa. The only time we were allowed to stop dancing for the next 4+ hours was when we were being given another shot. At this place when you ordered a drink you also got a shot of Mezcal – think tequila’s older, cooler brother. There was lots of laughing all around. Most laughing at the gringas attempt to dance. Good times.

Here is a somewhat terribly filmed cell phone video for a night out dancing:

I can’t say I did a whole of cultural activities in Mérida. It was a recharge week for sure. Several people asked me why I would stay for a whole week but it was my plan and I wasn’t willing to change it. A week of pool time and early happy hours? Not complaining. I did take one cooking class which was really cool. We made plantain empanadas and cactus salad. It was delicious and a good way to meet a few more people at the hostel. All in all Mérida felt fairly short lived. Or not really but since I didn’t do much but swim, read, dance and drink there isn’t a ton to report. I was bummed to say bye to Eileen, she was a super fun!

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Next stop – leaving crazy hot Merida for extremely cold San Cristóbal de las Casas. I liked Merida but it was just so hot that I can’t say I loved it. San Cristóbal on the other hand I LOVED. Maybe my favorite of the three cities I visited.

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SC just felt a bit more local. I stayed at my favorite hostel in Mexico there, Puerta Vieja. There was just a great vibe to the place. SC is in Chiapas and Chiapas has the highest rate of the indigenous Mayan population in Mexico. The food is a bit different, language is often not Spanish and poverty is very evident. I wandered all over the city. There are HUGE markets with incredible, inexpensive things. Things that were so cheap I just had to yes. I had been so good about shopping up until that point. Carrying all your belongings on your back is a great reason not to shop. Way better then something silly like running out of money. But.. SC got me. I knew I was nearing the end and I just went kinda crazy. A lot of my Mexican Christmas presents came from there. In addition to shopping there are a few beautiful churches including a famous Cathedral, lots of pedestrian only streets to wander down, tons of tiny restaurants and lots to look at.

From San Cristóbal I made my favorite side trip. I met an nice Swedish girl in the hostel (whose name was confusing and I’m the worst, I know) and we both mentioned wanting to visit a nearby town of Chamula. Chamula is famous for a church where the people blend the indigenous Tzotzil Mayan traditions with Catholicism. For example, chicken sacrifices on the alter under a cruxifix is a common practice. Randomly there was a priest on some sort of sabbatical staying at the hostel. We talked about it later and said that it’s not terribly uncommon, the Catholic faith adapted many traditional practices of the communities that they converted. If that’s what it took to win them over/force them into converting then so be it. Weird! Interesting!

This is a video of a folk group playing in a bar one night:

So anyway, we decided to go to this church. There are some small travel agencies in town that will take you but a local guy at our hostel suggested that we just go in the local collectivos – you speak Spanish, don’t be waste your money like the other gringos. Um, fair enough? So the adventure begins. We walk about a mile and half out to the collectivo stand. The collectivos in SC are basically really old 15 passenger vans that are group taxis that leave once they are full. You can wait 1 minute or hours depending on the demand. We get waved over by a driver, great this one is leaving soon! He opens the door and a small child almost falls out. This is a 15 passenger van with at least 23+ people in it. Um, I don’t think we can fit. We’ll wait. Thanks. Nope, not an option. Dale, dale, dale! Ok.. I guess we are some how getting in? I was then handed a very small, child sized, almost doll size folding wooden chair. I had to close the door and put my little chair in half into the well that step down into to get in and out of the van. I leaned forward and the driver shut the door, we were off. I legit prayed the entire way that I wouldn’t break the tiny chair. Turns out this was about an hour or so long over some seriously curvy, bumpy dirt roads. The poor Swedish girl wasn’t even given a chair and basically ended up in a squatting-fetal position, also at everyone’s feet. No one in the collectivo blinked an eye as they were also packed in like sardines. The gringa price was about $10 but included a seat. The local price was about .25 cents but was somewhat traumatizing. Don’t worry, I made sure to spend the other $9.75 on handicrafts.

Ok, so we make it to Chemula. The very small local Mayan man opens the door and I tumble out. He catches half of me, the Swedish girl grabbed my arm and what felt like 20 other hands grabbed all sort of other parts of me. Forget raising a child, it takes a village to “safely”exit a collectivo. Mhmm, dust myself off and.. it’s time to explore. We were both surprised at how packed the town was. There were people everywhere! Most of the men were in costume – either white fur ponchos or black fur ponchos. The women were dressed in their traditional but normal clothing – very bright colors. We head towards the center of town and realize that there is a huge crowd of people in front of the church. That is when I got introduced to the crazy game of torrito. So, in this game there is one child wearing a medal cage somewhat shaped like a bull. There cage has all sorts of fireworks attached – some that shoot off into the crowd and some that just flame like big sparklers. The “torrito” (little bull) runs as fast as he can around a statue while he is chased by about 20 or so littler boys from the community. These littler boys are all in costume too. It’s quite a range – we have Winnie the Pooh, Jason from Halloween, the devil, Spongebob Squarepants… a true collection. These little boys are carrying pillow cases and trying to hit the torrito in order to knock off the fireworks, the fireworks that are intermitenly shooting off into the crowd watching and little boys chasing. Thankfully no one was lit on fire and after I got over my shock I was thoroughly entertained.

The main attraction in this town is the actual church. The rules are very clear, you pay $2 to enter and absolutely no photos are allowed. The church is really big considering the size of the town. There are no pews to sit on and along the walls are saints that look like this google photo:

I found out later that each family is tied to a different saint. The entire family – grandparents, parents, kids, babies were at the church lighting long, thin taper candles (like the other google photo above) and praying to their saint. The floor was marble or some sort of smooth stone. They would melt the bottom of the candle and stick it to the floor. Each saint had 20-100 light candles in front of it. The floor of the church was also covered in a fairly thick layer of pine needles. Pine needles + smooth stone = ice rink, very hard to not slip and fall. It was fascinating. I so wished I could have taken out my camera but I respected the rules and worship that was happening.

We want to look around so we start to make our way to the front. The church is PACKED. The people in this region of Mexico are very small so me and my tall Swedish friend are a good foot taller then everyone in the church. That made it easier to see but didn’t help us as we tried to push through the crowds (remembering the slippery floor.) Slowly but surely we made our way to the front. There was no chicken sacrificing which I would have felt kinda weird about but to be honest also was interested in seeing. Along with the sacrificing another thing that this group of people do as part of their religious worship is drink a corn liquor. This day there was no chickens but lots of liquor. You see these people with all sort of jugs just handing out dixie cups of this homemade liquor. A young woman came up to us, very excited to hand us each a dixie cup. She took a shot herself and then encouraged us through gestures to follow suit. My friend and I looked at each other, shrugged and went for it. Let me tell you.. this ain’t no church wine. We downed the shot and immediately our eyes started watering and our throats started burning. The young woman just very excitedly nodded at us and poured more shots. That time we said thanks but no thanks. I couldn’t do another one.

Then I got the closest to having a panic attack that I’ve ever been. I’m not normally claustrophobic but I looked around realized we packed in the on the alter like sardines an there was candles everywhere. There was so much smoke in the air from candles and incense that we couldn’t see the doors of the church. I realized that if the dry pine needles or anything else were to go up in flames we wouldn’t be able to get out. In the snap of my fingers I went from having a bizarrely fascinating cultural experience to being in a bit of a panic. I told my friend we HAVE TO GET OUT and I could tell she agreed. Again, slowly but surely we made it to the front. When we got to the doors the crowd really thinned out. At that moment, no longer packed together, essentially holding each other up I slipped on some pine needles basically did a split in the middle of the entrance way. Yup, just one of the giant gringas doing gymnastics in the church. Mmhmm, real respectful. Also, kind of painful.

Alright, so we get out of the church and just are taking gulping breaths of fresh air. Appreciate air people! There is now some sort of military style marching parade of men in white and black furs around the town square. Also fascinating. We find some good seats where people stared, confused why were there and the kids would look at us and giggle, giggle, giggle. A cultural experience for everyone! We spent the rest of the day wandering around desperately trying to find a bathroom and taking photos. At the very end of the day a man came up to me yelling NO FOTO! NO FOTO! I felt awful. I knew not to take pictures in the church but hadn’t really thought about taking photos of the celebration. My bad, sorry dude.

We were both pretty beat but had had a great day. We shopped in the handicraft stores intended for the tourists all the way back to the collectivo stands. We had a plan, we would get in early – even if it meant we had to wait. Silly girls, no plans allowed. We were shuffled into the first available collectivo. Thankfully it was only about 3/4 of the way full and we were able to slide onto an actual seat. The bench seat that was intended for 3 people already had 4 people on it when we sat down but in comparison to the ride out 6 people sharing a bench seat seemed golden. Or so we thought. Then an entire family showed up. Mom, Dad, two babies, several little ones and grandpa. Mom and the littles pile in. Dad helps grandpa in and I am thinking – where is this old man going to sit? There’s nowhere. Maybe someone will offer him a seat? Nope. Grandpa just smiles his old man smile at me and proceeds to sit on my lap. Out of nowhere a few more littles show up. Dad picks them up and just starts handing them to people. A toddler is stuck between me and the Swed. Oh my god. This collectivo is fuller then the one we took to get out here! I am so tired and ready to go. We must be done, right? Nope, not done. A tiny baby is thrust at me. I got grandpa on half my lap, a toddler sharing mine and Swed’s lap and now I am holding a tiny, sleeping baby. At this point I am just waiting for something even crazier to happen but finally the driver gets in, puts another kid on his lap and we’re off. We make it back to town and I’ve got the toddler in giggles with the tickle monster game, baby still sleeping and grandpa in his own little smilely world. Everyone is safe and the ride back only cost .10!

I think it was my most random day of the entire time I was away. I went in thinking I knew what to expect was just mindblown again and again. The Tzotzil Maya are a proud people. Proud of their culture, their language, their religion and their families. As they should be. As a (privileged) outsider looking in it was hard to see how extreme the poverty was. Leaving a middle class city to enter a rural community was pretty shocking at times. The Tzotzil Mayas are known for not wanting to integrate with the larger community, Mexican or even Mayan. Tourism is essential to their economy but not without it’s negative impact. Whether its people taking pictures, being watched during their religious ceremonies or just the influence of outside culture there are cons to opening their community to non-members. There were moments though- accepting shots in the church, giggles over the tall white girls, playing tickle monster with a little kid – moments that regardless of our backgrounds the human connection was just so evident. We didn’t need to speak the same language, look the same or even have the same value system to enjoy each other for those few passing moments. It was something that I couldn’t have planned but just seemed to come together so well.

I was reluctant to leave SC. I really liked the city, loved the hostel, had made friends but such is the of a backpacker, after a little over a week it was time to move on. I heard great things about Oaxaca so I was excited to explore another part of Mexico! Next blog, one last SC sidetrip and Oxacan adventuring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Padres in Mexico!

10 months late but I am finally making it to MEXICO! August 2015 marked 12 months on the road and Mexico marked my 12th country. It was a big moment!

I had dropped Purtell off at the airport in Belize City and then our cab driver dropped me off on the side of the highway promising a bus would arrive shortly. About 2.5 sweaty hours and a lot of doubting later a bus finally arrived! This was a local bus and many people found it quite strange for a gringa to traveling alone, especially on the local bus. It was fine. I made friends.

A very nice family helped explain to me what was happening when we arrived at the border. There was a lot of shouting. Apparently there is quite a bit of trade happening between the Belizian and Mexican border. Need a tv? New bras? Christmas stockings (in August)? This is the place. Tourist buses get taken to a separate terminal but I was right in the mix with the locals. Me and my giant backpack made our way through the crowd and into the passport check line. When I got to the front the immigration officer gave me a weird look and told me in Spanish that I was in the wrong line. Why because I’m a foreigner? He said no, because you’re blanca! Um.. seriously, I can’t be in this line? Hahahaha, no mija, is joke, is JOKEEE! Local bus, huh? Dale. The real bummer was that by arriving in the wrong terminal I had quite a hike to actually leave Belize and enter Mexico. This included crossing a huge bridge without a sidewalk by foot. Again, people were surprised but a sweet old lady literally took me by the hand over to her family. I spoke with grandchildren and they said just to stay with them and I would be safe. Up side.. I got a great shot of the Welcome to Mexico sign! It’s weird to think about now but at the time I didn’t even phase me. Me and my new Mexican family were just walking across a 4 lane bridge, NBD. Just a normal day in the backpacker life.

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I had about 5 days to relax before my parents arrived. I wanted to just take it easy. My dad had read about a place that he thought I would like – Bacalar, Mexico. Bacalar is literal paradise. There is a giant fresh water lake with 7 shades of blue. There are even sink holes in the lake that you can scuba dive in. You can sail,  kayak, swim… water babies will be in heaven. I stayed at a tiny little posada – think cheap B&B. The owners were lovely. The people were interesting. The water hammock is my new happy place. The only downside.. it was so HOTTTT and there was no AC. During the day it was fine because you just jumped in the the cool water. Night was a different story. At best I slept 3 hours a night. Everyone did. We had 1 fan for a shared room with 8 people. I stuck it out 3 days and while I was so sad to leave I was too exhausted to stay! I would love to back in the future but I will bring some friends and definitely pay for a place with AC!

From Bacalar I took a (tourist) bus up the coast. Arriving in Cancun and immediately taking the ferry over to Isla Mujers. Mujers is beautiful but also superrrr touristy. I stayed at another cheap hostel but had learned my lesson and got a room with AC! I had a couple days so I just wandered around, went to the beach and ate a whole lot of fish tacos. There are several great scuba and diving sites in Mujers but I didn’t check that out this time. Low on funds and uber lazy. It super easy to get down to Cancun and while it’s not my favorite place in Mexico I will definitely go back! Mujers would be a fun place for a girls trip so hopefully that will happen some time in the future. :)

The day had finally come… my parents arrived!! I was so happy to see them! Lots of hugs and snuggles at the airport. They had rented a car and from there we set off for the first stop on our trip. We went to Isla Holbox. Holbox unlike Mujers is super chill. It reminded my parents of Lake George in the 70s. There are significantly more Mexican families on vacation then foreigners on the island which is a vibe we enjoyed. There had just been a huge rain storm before we arrived and several of the sand roads were under water. The island doesn’t have cars, just taxi golf carts so we loaded up the cart with our stuff and headed out. At one point our driver was bombing down a road that looked swamped. I asked him if we were going to make it and he basically just shrugged and said let’s see. We didn’t. It was hilarious. My mom and I had to crawl out the back and slip and slide around a lake size puddle. My dad and driver just hit the gas and went for it! They made it that time – just a little submarining necessary.

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Jim and Shelia’s first hostel was a nice one!

My parents and I actually stayed at a hostel. Pretty bad ass of my parents! They did get a private room and I stayed in the dorm. The hostel was great but LOUD. They had live music every night which was a lot of fun. That first night we went to a rather nice seafood restaurant. Grilled lobster and spicy margaritas… not the life I was use to! Well… maybe the marg part. Anyway, as we were sitting there in a lovely outdoor patio, under twinkle lights and giant palm fans when my parents realized that the man at the table next to us was not wearing a shirt or shoes. Hahaha. Welcome to Mexico! Even the fancy places are quite casual. One of the things I loved was all the incredible street art on the island. It seemed every corner we turned on the way back to the hostel there was another incredible mural. That night we got back to the hostel and there was a full salsa band playing. We had night caps on the porch, listening the music and looking up at the gorgeous sky full of stars.

Day two we wandered around and a found a place where you could rent loungers for the day. The cabana boy told us it was actually only for hotel guests. I asked really nicely, explaining that my parents were here for vacation and it was would be so lovely if we could just rent a space for day. He caved! For $10 we rented two giant sofa loungers, a hammock and a canopy covered swinging beach bed. My parents were shocked but again.. welcome to Mexico, it’s the good life for cheap! The water was really calm and a nice temperature. I gorged on the twizzlers, cheese-its and the People magazines they brought me! That night we had dinner at a cute little restaurant. All of a sudden a 4 person Mexican folk group started playing guitar and singing. The woman had an incredible voice, the man was a very good guitar player. Dinner and show! Such a good day!

Holbox was a pretty quick stop for us because after two nights we were back in the car headed to the Tulum area where we rented a house. We had great little house. Two bed rooms, decent size splash pool, full kitchen and living room. Again, super reasonable cost – cheaper than a hotel. It was in a safe little community. It was sooooo nice to be in a house again. Even though it wasn’t our home it was so comfortable and easy. I loved it. We used our house as the home base and went out exploring everyday. While we were there the Caribbean was dealing with a major sea grass problem. Certain beaches were covered in it. Still swimable but it certainly took away from the gorgeous turquoise water. Thankfully we had a car so we were able to explore. That whole coastal region of Mexico has tons of naturally formed, fresh water swimming holes called cenotes. Each cenote is different shape, size, temperature and feel. Some are above ground, some are below ground in caves. We explored a ton of them! There was a tiny one right down the street and a big one with a zipline 10 minutes up the road from our house. We love to snorkel so we got to do that a ton.

We went to one underground cenote and hired a really nice college kid as our personal guide. He took us all through this incredible cave. There were times where could all be together and other times when we had to go single file. We had underwater flashlights because it was super dark in parts of the cave. There were stalactites and stalagmites – giant formations that grow from the ground up or from the ceiling down. We were in a bat cave! Ah! Batssss! It was all really impressive. A different day we just went for a drive and looked for signs. We found a sign for a cenote and when we drove up a guard stopped us. This was part of a tour and it was only for tour buses. I used my nice gringa-that-can-speak-Spanish trick and asked pretty please. He radioed into his boss and we got permission to go in! At first it was super crowed with two tours buses but within 10 minutes all the buses left. It was just us and a sweet little Mexican family. This place was a naturally formed island with a moat. How cool! The other one that I really loved reminded me of the Everglades. It was freshwater but you could scuba and go through a channel and end up in the ocean. So cool! The current really pulled you through so it was super easy swimming. The water would go from crystal clear to hazy and that was where the fresh water and salt water were mixing. You could sort of taste it in the water. About half the time we were swimming on top of people scuba diving which was also very cool to see!

We didn’t spend all our time in the water. Tulum is a lovely little town. We walked around and shopped. It was a Mexican Christmas at the OD house for sure!! We had some really good meals. Jim is the ultimate wanderer and Sheila and I can happy pretty much anywhere. It makes for good vacationing. So on one of his many strolls my dad found some guy grilling squid on a tiny weber grill in the street. Let’s check it out! Turned out to be a great little lion fish restaurant and the chef was trying out new menu items. We got to sample and give opinions on the new items which was fun. Lion fish are predatory fish that are not originally from the Caribbean. They were brought over from SE Asia and are killing off tons of local fish and plants. Not good. They are also crazy poisonous and can kill you if they touch you! Local communities are trying to figure out a use for the fish and realized if prepared correctly they can be safely eaten. Lion fish tacos for everyone!

We liked that place but our favorite place was Capt’n Jacks. I had been thinking of going to Cuba which can be tricky. My parents encouraged me to stop in a travel agency. I did and while they were very helpful. In the end I decided it just wasn’t the right time for me to go to Cuba. On the plus side I asked for a local map and suggestions of local places. It took some coaxing but finally I got them to stop recommending gringo locations and instead just tell me where they went to eat. Capt’n Jacks was their favorite local hangout. I think we went 3 or 4 times in the week! By the end we walked in and everyone knew us which was really was fun. Great price, great food – especially the ceviche which I loved and my dad basically lived off of, eating it everyday! Super fresh, super delicious and very healthy.

My mom loves history and I love latin culture so we also wanted to visit ruins. We drove out to the Coba ruins. We wanted to arrive early enough in the day to beat the mid-day heat. A cool thing about these ruins is that they are fairly deep in the jungle but the area is pretty flat. They have a really good system where you can rent bikes or bike taxis. The bike people tried very hard to talk us into getting a guide. They said the bike taxi drivers don’t speak English and only speak some Spanish because their Mayan language is their main form of communication. Thankfully Sheila’s taxi driver was lovely and he and I were able to communicate in Spanish. Leo had only finished 4th grade before being pulled out of school to help support his family. He was very proud of his Mayan heritage and knew a ton about the ruins. We biked all around seeing lots of different kinds of ruins. There is a pyramid that they still let you climb which is very unusual in Mexico. By the time we made it there is had gotten HOT but I decided to suck it up and climb the pyramid anyway. Going up was actually easier than coming down! It was steeeeeeeeep. Thankfully there was a rope secured from the top of the pyramid – holding on was essential for coming back down!

We also spent a morning at the Tulum ruins. We got there nice and early as well because there is no shade at those ruins! To be honest I was a little underwhelmed. Tulum had long been on my must-see list and it wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. I somehow didn’t even end up with pictures! It was interesting but more crowded and I might have been ruined-out at that point. From there we did find a really nice beach resort. The security guard let us know that no coolers were allowed. Reasonable? Probably buttttt no cooler? That’s not the OD way. This poor guys was in a full uniform, standing a parking lot, dripping sweat and still super pleasant. We offered him one of our ice-cold beers. He said thank you but he couldn’t drink at work. We offered him an ice-cold Orange Fanta which he graciously accepted and we basically had a friend for life! He told me that he had to go to the other side of the parking lot. He wouldn’t be back for 10 minutes. If someone took a cooler backpack in at that time no one would know… Hahah, yes! Orange Fanta for the win! Another great day at the beach in a sweet little rental spot and a full cooler to keep us refreshed. A chill and easy way to spend an afternoon.

It was so great to have my parents in Mexico with me. I was really excited about Mexico so it was so fun to explore it with them. I saw so much more of the Tulum area then I would have without a car. I enjoyed playing translator and I think my Spanish helped us to see some things that the average tourist might not. They are both so go with the flow and because of that we were able to have lots of random, lovely days. One night sitting on our back porch my dad heard a sports announcer. Hey! Let’s get in the car and find what game they are playing. We ended up at a super local, utterly terrible baseball game. The athletic level was laughable but the people watching and crazy announcer sound effects were hilarious! Just one example of something I would probably not have experienced without them! I was so proud of them, both my mom and dad managed to make friends and have conversations with locals both in English and Spanglish! It was great to be able to show them a glimpse of my life over the past year.

I am super lucky to have parents who are supportive, trusting, adventurous and crazy fun! I love them so much and my adventure wouldn’t have been complete without their visit. Saying good-bye was hard but I was so excited to explore more of Mexico! After my parents left I had another 3-4 weeks to explore. More adventures to come!

Because she’s the greatest, here’s a little video of Sheila practicing her Spanish:

 

 

Keep on Belizin.

Saying goodbye to Rachel and Megan was a bummer but after Guatemala I shot straight up to Belize City to meet up with an oldie but a goodie, Megan Purtell! Megan I were born two days apart so obvi we have been BFFs since the womb. When my mom went back to work Meg’s mom watched my sister Megan and I which was the start of my double Megan life. Purtell and I went to different elementary schools but always stayed close and then were back in school together starting in middle school. So yeah, we go way back. Meg was very on board with visiting me and picked Belize as her meetup spot.

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Our first night we stayed a cute little Belize hotel which had a dock in the back and bar next door. We shared a dinner of a dozen Belkin beers and king size bag of Reese’s while wearing matching headbands from Guatemala. Gotta love a reunion!

From our research Belize City didn’t have much to offer so it was kind of a get in – get out sort of mission. There are some fun adventures to take from the city but we didn’t get to it this time. We are hoping to go back and tubing/caving is on our next to do list! We made our way to the speed ferry and headed out for the island first thing the next morning. As we took the boat over we were both in awe of how gorgeous the water is. So blue, so untouched.

When we arrived at the island we set out for a little place Meg had read about online. Shady Lane something or other.. it was $6 a night. My budget was happy happy! Once we arrived we realized why it was so cheap. Our room was in a clapboard style building with 4 rooms and the shared bathroom was an outhouse. There was a flush toilet and the shower had good water pressure so it ended up being ok. When we first saw that we were a little scared but honestly it wasn’t that bad. Our room was crazy hot but I lucked out with the bed under the fan which was nice. We had booked the space for 3 days and we stayed that long without a problem. After the three days we did decided to move though and stayed at a place that cost $45 a night. So expensive! I panicked, Meg talked me down and helped cover some of the extra costs – thanks buddy! This place was again fairly basic but it had AC, tv, a private bathroom and a small porch area. The front of the building faced the water and would have been gorgeous. We ended up in the back so we had a lovely view of a construction site but honestly we spent very little time actually in our room so it didn’t matter.

Belize has lots of little islands off the mainland area known as Cayes. Caye Caulker is infamous for being the backpacker Caye because it’s cheap and super laid back. There are no cars on the island, only golf carts. The island is tiny and you can walk from one end to the other in under a half hour. You can also rent bikes for pretty cheap which is great. There are endless little beach bars, happy hour is from 2-7 and so many opportunities to eat ice cream. We realized it had probably not been on a bike ride together in 15 or so years. Still got it! We toured around the island and had a nice little time. Then we came to a 4 way stop (reminder no cars but other people on bikes) and I panicked and fell off my bike. Hilarious. Everyone around us ran over to help me up. I was totally fine but one side of my body, legit from head to toe was covered in this fine white sand/dust which made very obvious I had fallen over. Tourist on a bike. #zerochill

The main place to hangout is The Split. Sometime maybe the 90s? a hurricane came through and split the island. The main part of the island is where people stay but if you are  strong enough swimmer you can swim against the current and get to the other side of the island. The current was actually super strong. You would jump off the dock and have to really swim for about 20-30ft into the water to avoid getting pulled backwards and then the current almost disappeared. There was also a sandbar on the other side of the current which was silky soft and easy to stand on. When you were ready to head back in you just put yourself into the current and it sucked you right back to the dock area. We both love to swim so we spent lots of time in the water.

Early on we met two really nice Canadian girls who became our vacation friends. We would meet up to swim or eat or drink or play cards or eat more ice cream. Forget the alcohol and we were basically living our 10-year-old dream lives. Add the alcohol and were actually living our 29 year dream lives!

The biggest thing we wanted to do was a snorkel trip. We did a bunch of research and heard that Raggamuffin – a Reggae theme sailing company was the best one to go with. I cannot recommend it highly enough – they were AMAZING! We did a whole day sailing trip visiting 3 different locations. Belize has the second largest reef system in the world, second to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Belize’s is much healthier and has more coral and wildlife though so it’s an ideal place to snorkel or dive. When we arrived at the office there were about 25 people and we were told we would be going on two different boats. We made some friends with the people our age but it turned out we were on different boats. Somehow we ended up on the family boat. Eh. Whatever, it was fine we both like kids and that meant more rum punch for us on the way back!

There was one very sweet mother and daughter from the Netherlands. The little girl decided I look like her neighbor from home which was very exciting to her. Her mom didn’t swim but the daughter loved the water and the mom wanted the daughter to experience snorkeling. It was really sweet, the mom was terrified but wanted to support her daughter. Meg and I offered to be her water buddy and she became our little shadow for the day.

We saw so many fish, sharks (of which Megan is terrified), turtles, eels and my personal favorite on this trip a MANATEE! The fish and sharks to the boat came for the chum but everything else was completely natural which was amazing. At one of our stops we got split into two groups to go look for more wildlife. Captain Shane and his First Mate, Jay split the groups. Jay counted us off “You, you and you – you’re in my group. I will call you…. Jay’s group.” Meg and I found that hilarious and still like say #Jay’sGroup whenever possible.

On the way back we just opened the sails and cruised. Jay made a delicious fresh caught ceviche and bought out a 20 gallon (idk, I don’t measurements but it was HUGE) of pre-mixed rum punch. So here’s the thing… Meg and I were among the few drinking the rum punch and the only ones pounding the rum punch. It was sooooo good. Juice! Plus we were thirsty we had been doing a lot of swimming and it was really hot. By the end I think Captain Shane and Jay were a little annoyed by the German family, the Dutch family slept and the older French couple just sat up front. Meg and I provided the entertainment while they provided the punch. The pictures progress and it becomes quite clear the point at which we probably should have been cut off. Except we never were….

That evening involved a bit of time travel on my part. Not to be recommended but I mean.. it’s the Caribbean, you have to embrace that sweet island life! The story goes on but considering the mixed audience reading this blog I have probably already said too much! :) #islandpourswillgetyou

The next day we took it a little easier. Probably didn’t have a drink till dinner, a real show of restraint. The island’s cheapest food is called a fry jack which is basically like deep-fried calzone ideally with eggs, beans, bacon or stewed chicken. Meg and I ate them almost everyday. A big greasy breakfast that could hold you off until your afternoon ice cream followed up a grilled seafood dinner. We made zero attempt but healthy but it was all so good so we didn’t care! Belize, or at least Caye Caulker was cheap. We ate mostly at divey places, stayed for real cheap and as I mentioned made good use of the happy hour specials. We both agreed that even with the flights Caye Caulker was cheaper than Myrtle Beach so put it your mind for future vacations because we loved it!

If all that isn’t enough there is a “drive-in” theater – a backyard with comfy benches and a big screen that they show pirated movies on. We saw a double feature – Jurassic World and some underwhelming rom com. So fun and the first time maybe ever that Megan stayed awake for an entire movie – proud of you.

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We had a blast. It was so good to see Meg and it was one of the most “vacation” like parts of my entire year away. We had some good things planned for the future. A blog worthy adventure hopefully coming up in 2017!

I was sad to see her go but next came Mexico which meant my last country and my parents time to visit!

Mayan hangout #518inGuate

A Colorado snow day seems like the perfect time to look back and remember our hottest Guatemala days. The final #518inGuate installment.

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Yesterday was in the 70s.

We really lucked out and had very mild weather for most of trip but once we headed north into Tikal that jungle heat really kicked in. By the time we made it to Flores, the town outside of Tikal we were all pretty beat. We packed a lot into the first two parts of the trip! We stayed at a decent hostel and decided to upgrade to a private room with three beds. Heaven. We bounced on the beds, blasted the AC, took real showers, compared bruises anddddd hit the bar. Next day was Tikal.

Tikal is a giant Mayan site. During it’s most important times 200-900 over 500,000 people lived here. There are lots of temples, living structures and roads built that were built throughout the  site. Only about 30% of the site has been uncovered due to costs and how difficult it is to keep structures preserved in the intensely humid jungle conditions. The whole place has an incredible feel. You are in the middle of jungle, surrounded by Mayan history and listening to Howler Monkeys. It’s surreal. I had visited on my first visit to Guatemala and it was great to be back.

We were a little feeling a bit rough at this point but still excited to explore. Megan and Rachel climbed some pyramids and I got to hang out with my favorite Guatemalan animal – the coati.

We had an incredible and exhausting day. That night I put Megan and Rachel on a bus headed for Guatemala City. Or so I thought. Turns out we were given the bus tickets for the wrong direction and Meg and Rachel ended up getting kicked off the bus. Seems like a bit of trend? After being forced off the nice luxury bus they had to go on the crappy local bus. As if that wasn’t enough they were forced to pay for the tickets all over again. Only problem? They didn’t have enough cash or access to an ATM. A nice man, who has since been referred to as the Bus Angel, lent them the money. Once they got to Guatemala City it once again was a big to-do to find a working ATM. Thankfully Bus Angel man was patient. They got the cash they needed and made it to the airport. They even had enough time for Rachel sneak away and buy Megan the earrings she had been coveting earlier in the trip on the sly! Made for lovely birthday gift. What a doll.

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My friends, my sisters, my adventures partners. Love you girls! xoxx

Guatemala continues to be one of my very favorite places. It’s beautiful, it’s cheap, it’s full of lovely people and I have visited what some of my very favorite ladies. Rachel and Megan came at the PERFECT time. I was so excited to see them. We laughed, danced, drank and explored more then seems possible in the 10 days we were in Guatemala. We done good girls!

 

Champagne Falls #518inGuate – Part 2

On my first trip to Guatemala we heard about an amazing place. There was a 1/4 mile long limestone bridge that was over on top a big river. The way the bridge formed it created natural tiered pools with turquoise blue water. It sounded amazing but we could never remember the name – Semuc Champey. Champagne Falls? Now that just rolls off the tongue. Champagne Falls it is.

We had such a good time in Antigua and at the Earth Lodge that we didn’t really want to leave. But, we were excited to head to Champagne Falls and stay at our next ecolodge, El Retiro. The journey there kinda sucked. We were in a giant crowded bus and a hungover kid kept puked out the window. Gross. At first we felt bad for him but then we realized he was the same idiot that chugged two beers before getting on the bus at 8am. When we finally arrive at the destination we were met by people from our lodge who would take us the rest of the way.

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Everyone was told to climb in the back of the pickup and stand for the 20 minute ride. That would have been fine except my continued sciatica issues and the added detail that we were all wearing our (slightly too large) botas. Not great for standing. I asked the driver if I could ride in the front with him because my leg hurt and he said sure. I went to climb in but two other people had beat me to the front. I explained to the backpacker couple that I needed to sit because I was hurt. The girl simply said NO! I was totally caught off guard and assumed she didn’t understand me. I explained again in very slow English that I was hurt it was really hard to stand still. Her response? I said NO!  At that point I was super pissed and just pushed past them to climb in. The girl looked me straight in the face and said I wish you a bad journey and stalked away. I had no idea how to react to that. I got to sit and that was the most important part but I also felt like I was on the wrong end of a gypsy curse or something!

We arrive at our lodge and I go to get my bag out of the back. At this point we are all regretting wearing our new botas because wet dirt and stone roads already make it a challenge to balance much less in new boots! I tell Megan and Rachel about the mean girl with the gypsy curse and they both go into mama bear mode. Totally ready, willing and able to either punch her in the face or spit in her food. Sisterhood at it’s finest. We decided to let it go but there was lots of talks about karma. So anyway.. we had arrived! Our cabin was about basic as can be but we could hear the river down below and we had a hammock out front so we were happy. That first night we took part in the family style dinner, continued to embrace the happy hour specials and took turns using the two swings that were part of the bar. So fun.

We decided to have a somewhat low key next day. We went swimming in the river. There was a pool that had formed which was perfect for swimming but still had a really strong current. We decided a human chain – first person holds a big rock, second person holds on to the first person, third person holds on to the second person – was our best bet. That afternoon we went tubing which was nice. Another pickup truck, this time with a bench in the back. We met some cute local kids, had a good float and managed to frantically paddle out of the main current so as not to be sucked down river at the end. Another fun night, this time with a solid dance party at the bar.

Next day was the big day! Champagne Falls! The first part of the day you have the chance to explore a cave by candlelight. I decided that I just couldn’t do with my crazy leg but Meg and Rach got to explore. They climbed, slid and jumped there way through a large subterranean cave. Once they came back we had a chance to jump off a GIANT swing. You climbed a rock to get on, then the river guide screamed at you when it was time to jump off – you could not come back, you would hit rocks coming back up. We were kinda nervous but def wanted to do it. Rachel went first. So brave! She managed to fall the wrong way though and kinda knocked wind out of herself. Meg was next (obvi I made them both go first). She fared a bit better but def hit the water hard. Ah! My turn! I had quite successful drop – hit the water pencil dive and popped back up just outside of the current stream. Perks of making the other people go first.

 

Next up was some more river tubing. The local little kids have quite a system going. The little boys run along the river shouting Cerveza – Beer, Cerveza – Beer and carrying tiny inner tubes and coolers. Show even the slightest bit of interest and a small boy will throw himself into the river and paddle over to you as fast as he can. Each of their beers are marked with a letter and when you get out of the river you are swarmed with little girls asking to take your cans. The girls recycle cans and take your money for their brothers. We found it both impressive and kind of sad. These children clearly don’t go to school because they are working. That said, they are entrepreneurial and know how to make a quick buck on the tourists that come to Champagne Falls. We did each buy a beer or two. I managed to take one sip and before filling my can with river water. Tube drinking fail.

 

After the tubing we were brought to area where we could eat our lunch. The little girls really liked our hats and sunglasses. They were very excited we were sisters just like them. We chatted and played silly games with them. They really wanted their pictures taken and we were happy to pose right along side them.

After lunch we crossed the bridge in the  photo on foot. It was the sketchiest bridge ever. Lots of planks missing and the boards were all lose. Now that I am back working in an Education Abroad Office I realize just how many health and safety concerns there were… oh well, we made it! Our guide gave us the chance to jump off the bridge. Rachel our resident dare devil went for it. Another tough landing – Rachel ended up a dinner plate sized bruise on her thigh but it makes for a good story!

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We were finally in sight of the actually Semuc Champey! We did some hiking and somehow ended up with our own personal guide. It apparently became obvious to our river guide that three of us needed some additional supervising. Carlos was probably about 17 and completely overwhelmed/entertained by our combine antics. You get in the water at the highest pool and then jump from one to the next until you reach the bottom. Each pool is really big but each one is different. Some are really deep, some have caves you can swim into. It was all gorgeous and the water was a great temperature.

Some of the transitions are small and you can just jump from one pool to the next. Other significant and you have to slide on your butt to get down. One of the “slides” had a sharp turn and so Carlos made himself a bumper rail for us. Somehow tiny Carlos managed to hang over as each one of us flew down the slide and hip checked him at full force. Good on you Carlos – we honestly don’t know how you did it!

Most of the time you are able to swim but sometimes you have to get up and walk over the wet limestone. By the end all three of us had fallen countless times. There were cuts, scrapes and bruises galore. Megan turned her bathing suit into a Mary Poppins bag. By the time we got to the end Megan had her swim shirt, a bottle of sunblock and her hat all tucked into her bathing suit. Girl likes to be prepared and is also a creative problem solver. It was honestly one of the most fun experiences of my adult life. We swam, jumped, laughed and screamed all day long.

One last big stop our on Guatemala adventure for the third and final installment in #518inGuate!

#518inGuate Part 1… hammock swinging, cocktail drinking, custom leather boots purchasing was just the start.

Guatemala is one of my favorite places. I have now been twice and each time was an incredible adventure with some equally incredible ladies. My first trip was in 2013 (seriously though, where does the time go??) with Courtney and Katie. The three of us fell in love with the country, the people and even though I managed to get amoebas in my belly I knew I had to return!

When the planning for this trip came up Megan, Rachel and Ali all said they wanted to come visit me and I knew they would make it happen! Megan and Rachel were able to meet me in Guatemala and I honestly couldn’t have been happier to see them! Ali didn’t make this trip because she had recently graced our group with the newest Scotia girl, the lovely Lily! We missed Ali but we’re all truly smitten with Lily and very excited to shop for her!

Megan is my sister, my best friend, my confidant and my one of my very favorite travel buddies. Rachel has been in my life since I was in kindergarten as one of my Megan’s best friends. Somewhere around high school I edged my way into their group and by the time I was graduating from college I could count Rachel as one of my closest friends and essential part of some of my very best times. I was feeling a little rough when the girls arrived and they IMMEDIATELY picked up my spirits. I met them in Antigua at our hostel, the hostel I changed at the last-minute and didn’t fully communicate to the girls. Oops! Thankfully they found me and our shrieking-hugging-kissing-bouncing reunion at the front desk got some attention from our fellow travelers. What can I say? Once the Scotia girls get together things get really loud and lovie!

1 tuk, 3 girls and 1 million shopping bags! #MakeItFit

1 tuk, 3 girls and 1 million shopping bags! #MakeItFit

I had heard about a place in town where you could get custom leather boots for about $100 and they are ready in 3 days. Of all the people in my life who might be interested in a pair of Guatemalan custom leather boots, Rachel was #1 on my list. As predicted she was very excited and so was Megan. Off to the boot shop! First step – choose the style – cowboy, slouchy, knee high, doc marten style.. there were several options. Next step – choose your leather. There were maybe 10 or more colors of leather including different textures. After that come the really good part – choose the fabric for the shaft of the boot. Guatemalan ladies wear huipils – traditional tunic style, embroidered shirts. This boot shop had old huipils that they used for the shaft of these amazing boots.

Rachie getting measured.

Rachie getting measured.

 

At first I wasn’t going to buy a pair of boots. While backpacking $100 felt like $1000. You could live for a long time off of $100, especially in Guatemala! Could I really justify spending one hundred whole dollars on a pair of boots? Of course not. Except… Rachel and Megan were involved. They are getting boots. Come on Sar, don’t you think you’ll want a pair? When are you going to get boots like this again? Do you know how much these boots would cost at home? Meg offered to lug them home for me and that was it… my FOMO won out and I decided I simply had to have a pair of botas (boots in Spanish). Next I had to decided what kind of leather I wanted? Well.. I mean.. if I’m going to get custom botas I might as well get purple leather, right? Again, this is absolutely NOT something I would have done on my own but with Megan and Rachel at my side I have a whole new level of confidence and adventure. Purple leather botas for the win!

Picking our huipils was also hilarious. First they brought out a garbage bag full of huipils. We just sat in the center of the floor, three grown women sitting cross leg and sorting through various beautiful huipils. We felt kinda bad but then I asked the boot maker how many boot orders he gets in a day? He said maybe one pair a week or even every two weeks. Three boots sales in one day was the jackpot for him!! After that we just took our time and he just smiled a lot at us from the corner. Here is the thing, we like options. Um, sir, do you have more huipils? We search through 6 full garbage bags of huipils. When he brought us the sixth bag he finally said – no more, you must choose! Megan ended up with gorgeous brown, knee-high boots with a beautiful purple pattern. Rachel got black leather cowboy boots with an amazing green pattern. I end up with my purple leather cowboys with a bright pattern of giant birds. Purple leather bird boots, not gonna find those at home!

We never got a truly great picture but this give you a good idea. They all turned out a little big but we'll go with it!

We never got a truly great picture but this gives you a good idea. They all turned out a little big but we’ll go with it!

The bird boots were just the start of shopping adventure. There is so much beautiful, incredibly inexpensive treasures to be found in Antigua. We shopped till we dropped. Markets, stores, street vendors – if you were selling it, we were checking it out. There was lots of hard bargains and big sales while we were in Guatemala!

After staying in Antigua for a night we headed up to the Earth Lodge for three days. I love this place. I first went with Katie and Courtney and absolutely fell in love. I could go spend an entire vacation here. Not the most authentic Guatemalan experience but just an incredible spot. High up a mountain the Earth Lodge is full of little cabins and tree houses. We stayed at Casa Buena Vista – the Good View where we had a private bathroom and our own hammock area. Heaven. The cabin was only $45 a night – pricey by Guate standards, a steal by US standards. It’s honestly hard for me to decided which is better.. the food or the views. If you consider happy hour as part of the views that probably does it. They have amazing cocktails and we took FULL advantage! That said, the Adirondack chairs and hammocks looking out over the valley and providing views of three different volcanoes was memorizing.

On our second day is rained and when I say rained I mean POURED down rain. We decided to sleep in and enjoy the sound of rain of a tin roof. I went to our unattached bathroom to shower and managed to get the camp shower to turn on but I couldn’t get it to turn off. At this point I am thinking of myself as this highly competent, independent woman so what do I do? Wrap up in my tiny towel and scream for Megan at the top of my lungs until she finally hears me and comes to save me. It took her about another 10 minutes but she finally got the water to turn off. Thanks, Meg. Little sister benefits.

That day we ate some delicious breakfast and then decided it was time to start sampling cocktails. They were so good and we had so many. We played games, painted our nails and just caught up. The rain was probably the best thing to happen to us – we couldn’t do anything that day but just hang out. As the day went on and our cocktail count grew we got a little louder and a little sillier. Most people thought we were fun and wanted to join in on the merriment, a few kept their distance – what’s that? We’re overwhelming? I don’t understand. But honestly, the fellow earth lodgers were great and especially the staff. We all want to go back!

Our time at the Earth Lodge flew by and it was already time to move on the next, Semuc Champey. This was the spot on our trip that was new to me so I was super pumped! Guatemala had so much going on that its going to be a 3 part blog post. Part two coming soon!

Nica hobbling.

Ah! So much has happened, so many things I wanna blog about.

Welcomed to Colorado with a beautiful sunset.

Welcomed to Colorado with a beautiful sunset.

Where to begin? Quick life update, I moved to Colorado and I am LOVING it. When I came back to the States and started the super fun process of job searching I had no idea I would end up here! Shout out to Courtney and Mike for trailblazing the Baltimore – Fort Collins route. Courtney who along with being one of my closest friends was also my fellow Study Abroad Advisor at Towson. Courtney and Mike decided to make a incredibly well thought out and daring decision to pack up their apartment in Baltimore and see what living in Colorado had to offer. Courtney is now working at Colorado State University in the Ed Abroad Office and when another position became available she suggested I apply. At first I thought I would get flown out and if nothing else get dinner with friends! In the end I was offered a position as an Education Abroad Coordinator responsible for incoming exchange students, international internships and alumni outreach.

Here are a photos of the first two week’s highlights: Bona reunion dinner in Denver, hiking in Colorado Springs, Charlie my new cat roomie, hiking up to the Horsetooth Resouvior which is essentially my new backyard.

So now that I’m caught upish it’s time for this blog to leave South America and journey north to Nicaragua. I love Central America. It’s rugged and friendly and full of treasures. I had quite a plan for  my time in Nicaragua. Then I got off the plane and realized I wasn’t sure I could walk to the Customs booth without the help of a wheelchair. In that moment I knew that my plans would need to change. My sciatic nerve hurt BAD. Can’t really walk bad. Add a backpack that holds all your possession and now you’re in agony, bad. But something kicks in… you have no choice. You have to keep moving and so you do. I made it out of the airport, fought with a taxi driver but eventually arrived at the local bus terminal and wandered a bit Granada until I found my hostel.

I stayed at Oasis, a really nice hostel in the downtown area. I had actually stayed there back in 2006 when I was studying in Costa Rica and need to spend 48 out of the country in order to renew my student visa. The place had not changed a bit since then but was still pretty impressive. I was feeling crappy and a little sad so I decided to treat myself and splurge for 3 days in a private room – a whopping $13 a night. I know, big investment, right? It was essentially a closet with a bed but I was happy.  The hostel allows you to make one 10 minute phone call to the USA per night that you stay there. In 2006 that was a HUGE luxury. When I wanted to call home from Costa Rica I had to walk to a pay phone that was in front of a bar which was 8 blocks away from my homestay. Now, with the wonders of technology anytime I had a half decent wifi connection I could call home for free. Still, it was free so I took advantage of it. The hostel also has computers, a small pool, unlimited pancake breakfast and dozens of hammocks. So I ate way too many pancakes and justified the lack of breakfast expense as a balance for the 4 extra dollars a night a private room cost.

While I was there I tried to see a chiropractor but no luck. In the end I found an AMAZING massage therapist who I went to 3 times in 9 days. $30 for a two hour deep tissue and acupuncture session felt expensive on a backpacker budget (and yet basically free in terms of US prices) but it was the only thing that helped and I happily paid the nice man. He encourage me to walk even if it hurt so each day I went out and did some exploring. Granada, Nicaragua is beautiful. Its definitely within the tourist zone of the country but it has maintained what feels like authentic charm. I wandered the streets, climbed to the top of the church tour and ate a lot of ice cream. I spent afternoons in “cafes” or lounging in the hammocks.

Nicaragua is a major place to visit on the gringo trail (backpacker route) and Central America is particularly popular for younger British & Australian backpackers. It’s beautiful, cheap, full of extreme sport places and you can always find a party. I don’t have anything against the Brits & Aussies but I was just not in the mood while I was there. I didn’t do a lot of socializing but I did end up making friends with a Spanish guy from Barcelona who didn’t speak any English. He was soooo excited to find another traveler to speak Spanish with. He was super patient with me and anytime I was would make a mistake/be at a loss for words he would kindly remind me that my Spanish was better then his English. Not gonna lie, that was a mood booster! Javi came to check on me every afternoon and see if I needed anything since I wasn’t super mobile – that’s the thing about backpacking solo, everyone looks after each other. Kinda sappy but true. It’s quite a community to be part of. After about a week Javi moved on and I decided it was time for me to move on too.

Next stop, another place I visited and loved in 2006 – Lago Apoyo. A crater lake of crystal clean water made from an ancient volcano eruption. It was beautiful and relaxing and they had Frank’s Red Hot to put on their homemade pizzas. Score! Little, unexpected tastes of home can mean so much when you’ve been away from a while. While I was there I meet some great people. Had conversations about 10 day silent retreats, Israeli politics, travel playlist must-haves, where to find the best textiles in Guatemala and what comes after a year of travel. Among the great company was an awesome couple from the States that have started a social entrepreneurship business selling fair trade items in back in States. Support education projects and find cool stuff at Life Out of the Box! It was very cool to meet people who have turned their passion for travel into a successful social business venture.

After the Lago Apoyo I circled back to Granada for a my third and final massage before heading on to Leon, Nicaragua. I had read so, so many good things about Leon but didn’t get much of a chance to explore. Again, it was a walking city and so incredibly hot that I just wasn’t up for it. I did eat so of the best food I had in a long time there. Simple and delicious. I was planning to stay a few days but  end up only staying 2 days and 1 night because I was able to get on a shuttle to Antigua, Guatemala – where I would meet Megan and Rachel to start our #518inGuate adventure. I jumped at the opportunity and took the last seat in a 23 hour shuttle from Nicaragua, through El Salvador and finally arriving in Antigua. 4 Irish, 2 Brits and me packed like sardines in a shuttle van for 23 hours with no air conditioning . It amazing the positions you can contort yourself into in a desperate attempt to sleep. Why hello stranger… you are now my pillow/foot rest/cuddle mate and I am to you. By the end we were smelly, sweaty, dirty new friends covered in cheeto dust and sharing water bottles. Ahh.. that dirty backpacker life.

So, looking back I don’t think I can fully check Nicaragua off my bucket list. There is still so much more for me to explore – the cities, the beaches, the islands. Good thing it’s cheap and close so I will definitely get back in the future. Even with feeling a bit out of sorts and physically pretty uncomfortable I was able to meet great people and see beautiful places so in the grand scheme of things, not bad. Not bad at all.

Next up… Scotia comes to Guatemala and it was so, so, sooooooo good.