Santa Teresa

The most recent stop on this Central American journey has taken me to Playa Santa Teresa, which is on the south west tip of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. My trip to get from Tamarindo to here was something really fun, and unique to the experience of world travel. One morning, while I was sitting on my little patio in front of my hotel room in Tamarindo, a girl walked by asking about things to do in the area. I didn’t really have a ton to offer, but, after talking for a few minutes, she told me that she was driving to her next destination in Costa Rica the following day: Santa Teresa. Fortunately, I did not seem like a creepy weirdo, and within a minute I had a ride down south. Instead of figuring out busses or paying $50 for a shared shuttle, I had a free ride in the air conditioned comfort of a car. 

My driver was an extremely friendly Peruvian girl named Carolina, who handled the extremely bumpy and rocky dirt road south like a pro. During the five hour drive, we talked about our lives at home, other places we have traveled, work, music, and other small talk. It was an incredible experience: driving through Costa Rica with someone from Peru that I had just met the day before. Again, something that pretty much only happens when wandering around other countries. 

After that long and bumpy drive, I found the room I had rented in Santa Teresa. The house’s main tenant, Phil, was home with his five month old puppy Olive, and welcomed me as an extremely gracious host. Within a few minutes, we were all enjoying a cold Pilsen (one of the local Costa Rican beers), getting to know each other. Phil is from New Jersey, and spends about half the year in Santa Teresea working and doing a lot of surfing. Santa Teresa is known as one of the most consistent surf breaks in Costa Rica, so the surfing community here is strong to quite strong. There are a lot of other “seasonal” residents here from Europe, the USA and Canada, living the cheap beach life for about half the year before returning to their ‘other’ home. 

Playa Santa Teresa

I tried some more surfing this week, improving from my rough days relearning how to surf in Nicaragua. I still mostly got dominated and thrown around the ocean, as Mother Nature whooped my ass many times, but definitely got better after several hours sort of riding waves and mostly falling. After spending almost a week here, I can see why people love living here half of the year. There is a very friendly community of seasonal residents, good food options, and a beautiful beach a seven minute walk away offering pretty decent surf almost everyday. Pretty tough life. 

One of the highlights of my stop in Santa Teresa was visiting the local rodeo. Once a year for about ten days, the local town of Cobano hosts a variety of rodeo activities. After driving the thirty or so minutes from Santa Teresa to Cobano, the road became blocked with a large group of cowboys on their horses, right in the middle of the street. The horses were dancing around, the riders drinking beers from the saddle. Now this felt like an authentic Costa Rican experience. Phil, Carolina and I grabbed some beers, and walked the several hundred yards from where we parked to the rodeo grounds. In between, there was a band playing with more people on horses dancing around. All along the road, there were kids and families sitting in driveways enjoying the horses and people walking down the main road. It was like a parade, but I didn’t see anything but cowboys on horseback. 

Eventually, we reached the fair grounds, which had some rides for kids, a bunch of food options, and several dance floors. The Costa Rican music sounds identical to most other latin music, which is to say it sounds like one extremely long song. Or a single song on repeat several hundred times. Needless to say, I am not a big fan. Phil found a bunch of his friends, who had also come to enjoy the Saturday rodeo festivities. There were rumblings and rumors that anyone could get in the ring with the bulls, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I would learn soon enough. We all enjoyed some more cold beers and local food, and I topped that off with one of the best churro experiences of my life. It was a freshly fried churro filled with dulce de leche. If you think that sounds delicious, you would be exactly right. 

Once the rodeo doors opened, we made our way inside the small stadium to find out just what a Costa Rican rodeo is all about. As soon as we enter, I see about a hundred people inside the ring, and these people are definitely not pros. So, clearly, anyone can get in the ring. There is some pomp and circumstance before everything gets started, and I still wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen. Then, the first bull is released, with a local rider on its’ back. The bull is big, and puts up a decent fight, but these bulls are not the totally insane variety seen at pro bullriding tours in the States. Here, the riders can fairly easily stay on the bull until they decide to dismount. What I am used to seeing, the rider has trouble staying on for a few seconds, let alone ten plus seconds. We all notice that the bulls balls aren’t cinched tight with a rope, which, I am guessing, would make the bull a lot more pissed off. 

Then, after the pro rider dismounts, is when the real fun began. The bull ran around the ring freely, with anyone who wants able to taunt and run around the now riderless bull. It was quite an amazing spectacle, and something that would NEVER EVER EVER happen in the States. There were some really brave/ stupid people who would get really close to the bull, and, yes, some people got absolutely destroyed. It didn’t look like any of the amateur attendees got seriously hurt, but some people did get chucked by a bull, which would leave a variety of bruises I am sure. 

Get in the ring. 

After I watched a few rounds of this, I decided I had to get into the ring to experience this myself. There were bars to climb up and out of reach of the bull, so if you didn’t want to really tempt fate, you could stay pretty far away from danger. I admit: stepping inside that ring, even at a very safe distance from the angry bulls, was still a heart racing experience. Just to see these angry bulls up close, with lots of other people taunting them, was pretty intense. At any moment, the bull could turn its’ attention on someone or something else and go charging. I stayed in the ring for several bulls before returning to the seats for the rest. 

The dude in orange got absolutely trucked by this bull. 

A few younger bulls, still with full horns, were let into the ring one at a time without a rider. Clearly, these younger and faster bulls were more for the daredevil fans to challenge, as well as spectators in the stands like me to watch. The younger and horned versions were a lot faster and quick than their older counterparts, and a few people got seriously tossed by the bull. Again, it didn’t look like anyone got seriously hurt, but I would not want to be on the receiving end of an angry bull’s horns. 

Me in the ring, far from any bulls. 

Overall, it was an extremely fun and memorable night. I enjoyed a local Costa Rican rodeo with some guys from America, a girl from Peru, and stands full of Costa Rican locals (Ticas, as they are called here). My week in Santa Teresa has been amazing as well. Phil, along with his puppy, has been an absolutely fantastic host. In stark contrast to Tamarindo, Santa Teresa is a much more mellow surf community, with seasonal residents combining with locals and short time visitors like myself to create an interesting little surf town. It has been very relaxing, a bit terrifying in the bull ring as well as getting thrashed in the ocean, and really hot. There isn’t much AC here, so I have been sweating pretty much anywhere I go. 

The sunsets have been amazing, the food delicious (but expensive), the beach is beautiful, and the surf was fun (although crushed me a few times). If you are in Costa Rica and want a mellow beach experience in a surf community, put Santa Teresa on your list. You can skip Tamarindo, unless you simply love being around other tourists and local drug dealers. 

My next stop will be Manuel Antonio, which I will be enjoying with my friend Mike, who I have known since I was six years old: about thirty years. In addition, he will help me celebrate my thirty sixth name day in Costa Rican fashion. It will be great to share some time in Costa Rica with a friend from home, sharing in the adventures abroad together. 

Tamarindo

Earlier this week, or the first time in my life, I stepped foot onto Costa Rican soil. Currently, I am in Tamarindo, which is barely Costa Rica at all, although it technically is inside the country’s border. It could easily be called Tourist Land International, along with places like Cabo san Lucas or Playa del Carmen in Mexico, Phuket, and Kuta. Maybe a company could be set up and market all of these places to potential travelers. 

Come see TOURIST LAND INTERNATIONAL’s latest, greatest city: Tamarindo! 

To be fair, Tamarindo is far more mellow and much cleaner than the super tourist meccas I have been to in Mexico or SE Asia. The beaches are almost completely trash free, and the people selling whistles or hammocks are, in general, pretty tame. I am guessing that the attitude of the sellers of random stuff is a cultural difference more than anything. Although it appears that roughly 50% of any local on the beach is also in the marijuana or cocaine distribution business as well. I can’t remember anywhere that I have been offered weed by so many people. While I enjoy myself a little green every so often, I never buy it in foreign countries. I have seen enough of “Locked up Abroad” to tempt fate even a little. 

To get to the Costa Rican tourist hot spot that is Tamarindo was a typical third world travel adventure unto itself. I left San Juan del Sur without any problems: got on the “chicken bus” (which was chicken free) from SJDS to Rivas, which is the larger city in the area. Of course, there is more than one bus stop in Rivas, and the ticket that I purchased was for a different bus picking up from a different stop. There are things I really enjoyed about Nicaragua, but efficiency or logic when it comes to transportation do not top that list. I wandered around the bus stop, trying to figure out where the hell my bus was supposed to stop. Eventually, a taxi driver told me it was on the other side of town, and because the bus was leaving Rivas in about twenty minutes, I sure as hell wanted to get to that other stop. The chicken busses were filling up, and some even went to Costa Rica, but I had paid $30 in American currency for an air conditioned mode of transport, and I was damn well going to find this particular bus. The taxi man said he could take me to this other bus stop for $4, so I quickly said yes and we were on our way. 

About ten minutes later, he pulled up to what looks like a random city bus stand, with a few benches. Ok, guess this is…it? There were five other tourists with their big bags, so clearly this was a stop for the big busses. Gotta love third world transit. Oh the BIG busses? Yea they stop at a tiny popsicle stand on the other side of town without any signs or anything. After a few minutes goes by, one of the chicken busses pulls up in front of me, clearly meaning I could have taken that bus to at least here. Nicely done, taximan. You successfully got $4 out of me. To be honest, I didn’t regret it at all, since I wanted to make sure I got on a bus going to a different freaking country. If I would have missed it, then another series of hoops to jump through would have started. I was trying to minimize hoop jumping. 

To my surprise, my bus came pretty much right on time. I showed my ticket, along with a few of the other tourist looking white folk waiting at the popsicle stand, and boarded what was relative luxury compared to the other busses in Nicaragua. You mean I get air conditioning and my knees aren’t embedded six inches into the seat in front of me? This is heavenly! 

Before too long, we reached the Nicaragua/ Costa Rica boarder. As with most things like border crossings I have experienced during my travels, nothing is ever explained. Our bus drives by a monster series of lines, like people waiting to ride Splash Mountain in June, so I prayed to the old gods that I do not have to stand through that. The bus stopped in a corner of the parking lot, the rest of the passengers started getting off, so I followed in line and do the same. Some sort of police officer/ border security checked my bag for .02 seconds and waves me off the bus. I exchanged my Nicaraguan Cordoba for Costa Rican Colon, while not sure if I had been taken advantage of yet again. Fortunately, I didn’t have much money to exchange, so they couldn’t have tricked me out of too much money no matter what. Everyone from my bus stood around for roughly thirty minutes while a series of food and souvenir vendors attempted to exchange their wares for pieces of paper currency. Not many people accepted their generous offer. Eventually, one of the border guards returned with a fat stack of our passports, and began calling names to redistribute them to their rightful owners. My name got called, I raised my hand, and the passport distributor wants me to take off my hat and sunglasses to confirm my identity. I complied with both requests, smiled, am given my passport back, and re-boarded the bus. Good times at the border patrol. 

After the “call the name, return your passport” game is complete, the bus is moving again. Before long, I see a sign that says “Welcome to Costa Rica,” and thought, well, that the crossing wasn’t too bad. Oh, silly Ben. I got my hopes up too soon. A quarter mile later, we made another stop. The first check was just to leave Nicaragua. Now we need to enter Costa Rica. Two different stops, two different checks. For this particular charade, everyone exits the bus once again, and gathered his or her respective bags. We all waited patiently in line, showed the passport to the Costa Rican officer, received a stamp, sent our luggage though an x-ray scanner that I don’t think anyone was actually looking at, exited the border check and once again got back on our bus. Now, I am officially in Costa Rica. I think. 

By this point, I was pretty tired from a half day of travel, so I slept a bit after the double border cross dance extravaganza. The bus employee knew I want to get off in Liberia, and not go all the way to San Jose, so after another few hours he woke me up to let me know I am at my destination. I got off the bus… in the middle of fucking nowhere. It felt like a scene out of a movie, where the city boy visitor gets to the dusty town out in the sticks. The street I am dropped off on has an insane amount of construction and a McDonalds within eyesight, as well as several metric tons of dust and dirt swirling in the wind. Instantly, as is custom, a taxi driver asked me where I was going and if I want a ride. A “generous” (his words) offer of $80 was instantly slashed to $50 without me even saying a word. This was still far too rich for my cheap travel budget, so I asked him where the bus stop was for Tamarindo, and he thankfully pointed me in the right direction. With all by bags in the midday heat, I sweated my way over to one bus stop, learn it was the wrong one, receive several more $50 taxi offers, decline, and found the second bus stop to be the correct one. Praise the old gods and the new! The next bus to Tamarindo was leaving about an hour later, so I enjoyed an average hamburger and waited along with everyone else, hoping this bus from Liberia to Tamarindo was going to show up. 

Thankfully, my bus did show up, pretty much on time, and I was finally on my last leg of transport to Tamarindo. Before really getting on the road, it was time for another unplanned incident. as the bus was backing up out of the station, I heard "pop pop pop" sounds behind us. I am far from a firearms expert, but the sounds did seem like they could have been gunshots. My suspicions were quickly confirmed by the people I could see running either toward the sound (to see what happened) or away from it (to avoid any rogue bullets). Everyone on my bus stood up to see what was happening, but we couldn’t see anything from our vantage point. Crowds of people gathered around the station, pointing in different directions, possibly where the shooter ran to. Police cars are soon zipping by, and our bus starts to head toward Tamarindo. More groups are gathered on corners, pointing and trying to see what is going on. We can see cops running around, pointing, apparently trying to find the suspect. This goes on for a few minutes, and then we seem to be successfully away from whatever skirmish just occurred. Oh, no, not done yet. 

A cop car whizzes by the bus, and the bus stops. I am in the far back, so I can’t see what his happening in front of us. Everyone stands up to get a better look. Next thing we all see is a cop standing at the back door of the bus, which promptly makes everyone sit down. A second cop then comes running through the bus, as they thought the shooter had boarded perhaps. He shakes his head no, and the two cops move on. Not sure if this is a regular part of the Costa Rican bus system, but it sure was exciting. Hope nobody got hurt. 

After driving on this final bus for over an hour, I could see why a taxi was a much quicker route. The bus drove into several small communities on the way from Liberia to Tamarindo, making what seemed like seventy eight stops within each little town. It took over two hours to reach the end of the line, but I enjoyed looking out the window at the Costa Rican landscape. I was on the final leg of my eight hour travel day, and could feel that the final destination getting closer. Empty ranch and farmland quickly turned into a street with a gaggle of tourists. I saw all sorts of signs for surf shops and restaurants. There are high end hotels all over the place, so I know, without a doubt, I was officially in Tamarindo. 

The area reminds me a bit more of Hawaii than other tourist hot spots like Phuket, Cabo, or Kuta. It isn’t nearly as built up as somewhere like Waikiki beach, since there aren’t any massive sky scraping hotels and there is only one main road, but it has a feel sort of like that. There is a Sharky’s with beer pong on Sundays, if that gives you any indication of the type of area it is. My hotel is pretty nice for $45 a night, although I believe the property may have been built on an ancient ant burial ground. Bugs are everywhere in tropical climates, so I am semi-used to them, but the ant population at my hotel must number in the multi-trillions. I don’t mind them outside, but when the big suckers get into my room, well, it’s execution time. If I don’t dispose of the dead ants properly, a group of mini ants find the deceased bigger ones and carry them off to…somewhere. I like to imagine that they are taking them away for an ant viking funerals, to be buried properly among the other trillions of their dead brethren. 

The beach in town is pretty nice, although sufficiently overpopulated with large, white humans. After being in places like Las Peñitas in Nicaragua, which never had more than ten people within sight, Tamarindo is a stark reminder that the tourists like to flock together. My main issue with this area is that the food is really expensive, and, for a third world country, it is pretty outrageous. I have not been able to eat for less than $6, and that is without any type of beverage. Most meals are closer to $10, and I continue to search for cheaper options. I even resorted to cooking my own breakfast to save a few shekels a day. The majority of visitors seem content spending $20+ on a meal, since they are, you know, on VACATION! Money is no object, right? Even the 12 oz beers at the local mini marts are about $1 each, which isn’t outrageous, but not super cheap either. 

Overall, Tamarindo is still a beautiful place. It is simply overpopulated with short term first world tourists, which jack up the prices of everything to first world levels. I can’t really recommend it, and don’t plan on coming back anytime soon, if ever, but it hasn’t been a bad stop either. I will relax, and enjoy my stay here for a few more days before heading farther south, away from the blinding glare of several thousand pale temporary residents of Tamarindo. 

San Juan del Sur

Tonight is my last of six spent in the small town of San Juan del Sur, in the south part of Nicaragua, almost to the Costa Rican boarder. It is a great, fun little place, and it doesn’t surprise me that it is one of the main stops for any visitor to the country. While it is definitely more ’touristy’ than a tiny nowhere place like Las Peñitas, that also offers some benefits. There are plenty of restaurants, corner stores, and options for day trips out of the small town consisting of a handful of streets. So the white dudes with dreads are offset by all the other options available. There are also a lot more people who speak at least a minimal amount of english, which barely existed in Granada and definitely not at all in Las Peñitas. Being a main tourist destination also makes it a bit easier to get in and out of, although it is still “third world travel.” For example, to go from SJDS to Tamarindo in Costa Rica (which is another main tourist destination), it will take me at least three busses, and maybe more. I will find out the reality starting tomorrow morning. 

This is the first stop on this trip that I am solo, as well. In Granada and Las Peñitas, I was with my mom and two brothers. While I miss their company, another main disadvantage to being by myself is that the level of accommodations have dropped off significantly. Instead of staying in awesome houses with private pools, I started off in a relatively shitty hotel that didn’t even have a mirror in the bathroom. I have stayed in worse places, and I am going for budget places, so I realize I get what I pay for. Another main change about this one man travel show moving forward is picking from the near endless options of what stops to venture to, whether in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. This time of year is high season, so I need to decide a few days in advance where I want to go, if I want to stay at a decent place at least. My option for hotel is usually middle of the road, meaning not a bunk bed in a dorm, and preferably under $50 a night. Based on my early research, and feedback from other travelers, Costa Rica is definitely more expensive than Nicaragua. This trip has been super affordable so far, so $10-20 extra per day fortunately won’t break the bank. 

The main beach in the town of SJDS isn’t that great, since it is situated on a small bay. So for a few days, I ventured to a few other beaches to partake in the main activity I did during the week: I went surfing two times. And I got dominated. It turns out that only surfing a few times in several years does not enhance one’s skills whatsoever. When I was living and going to college in San Diego, I surfed a decent amount, and at my best could I may have been considered terribly average. The passage of time and my lack of surfing has sent me all the way back to beginner status. One day I went to Playa Remanso, and another I went to Playa Hermosa. Both days were super fun, just a little frustrating at how terrible I currently am at the surf game. I mildly improved from session one to two, but just barely. Playa Hermosa was also where the filmed Survivor Nicaragua. Now it is a beautiful beach with a small hotel, bar and restaurant, which I am quite certain were not there during the shows taping. Just being out in the water and catching waves was a great way to spend a day. There were also a bunch of pelicans all around me, flying and diving into the water for some fish. It was super cool to have those big birds swooping and splashing down within a few feet of me while I am attempting to surf and mostly getting chucked off my board. 

On top of my duo of surfing excursions, living in a foreign, third world country has continued to offer its’ fair share of fun and surprises. Things like the pelicans feeding right next to me surfing. On the drive back from Playa Hermosa, which is located down a long dirt road, there were a few young kids standing in the middle of said dirt road. They said something to the driver, and happily jumped in the back of the truck. A few minutes later, they banged on the truck’s cabin window, as they had reached their destination. A “gracias!” from the kids and they were off to their respective houses. Then, pulling off the main dirt road and onto the paved main street back to town, there was a group playing baseball in the street. It turns out baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua, with most people I talked to liking either the Red Sox or Yankees. I would have guessed that soccer was by far the most popular sport, just like most countries other than the United States, so it was a surprise to learn that baseball was so beloved. Then, a few miles after passing the street baseball game, we passed a pack of cows walking down the street. Just add it to the list of subtle differences from back home, and another thing that I love about spending time random countries. 

Besides loving baseball so much, another surprise about Nicaragua is the relative lack of people, and definite lack of traffic. After spending time in SE Asia, I assumed that most third world locations were filled to the brim with traffic, with a zillion scooters scurrying around. Relatively speaking, there isn’t much traffic to speak of. It probably has something to do with the fact that there are simply far less humans here. However, in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, nearly everyone seemed to own a scooter. Here in Nicaragua, most people I have talked to don’t own any form of motorized transportation. Just not what I was expecting, but I am definitely not complaining either. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend putting San Juan del Sur, and Nicaragua, on your list of countries to visit. The people are extremely friendly and nice, the food is tasty and cheap, and the hotels are very affordable as well. You should be able to find any sort of activity you are looking for, from surfing, to zip lining to ATV-ing, to just catching some sunshine or reading on the beach. 

Tomorrow I head to Costa Rica. A new country, a new local beer to drink, a new location to explore. Nicaragua has been fantastic, and I would definitely like to return someday. 

Las Peñitas

The second stop on this Central American adventure has come to an end. It was a great, relaxing week in the small town of Las Penitas on the Pacific coast in northern Nicaragua. We rented a house right on the sand with a small pool, housecleaner/ cook, and dog named Travi. The list of activities for my family and me were some combination of reading, writing, walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean or pool, eating or napping. The one main activity we did was go on a boat ride through the mangrove forest, which was fun and interesting. There were iguanas, crocodiles, and roughly 12,000 species of birds that our boat guide was flawless at picking out. His ability to spot an iguana from twenty five yards away from a moving boat was truly impressive. 

During the mangrove tour, we also stopped to visit some freshly hatched turtles who were quite literally born that day. Before getting to the mini-turtles on the beach, I was introduced to my first experience with sand flies. I had heard of these jerks from my time in SE Asia, but had never had one eat my flesh before. These sons of biscuits are small flies that hop on your skin, chomp open a bit and drink some blood. Before I knew what the hell was going on, I had several sand fly bites, which are like nuclear mosquito bites. They swelled up bigger, itched more, and lasted longer. Add sand flies list of things I want wiped off the earth, along with the only other thing on that list: mosquitos. Thankfully the mini turtles were pretty cool to see, as they were crawling around in a small makeshift sand box, slightly making up for the fact that I had to survive the sand fly forest. 

Las Penitas also had a few small restaurants that we frequented for our afternoon snacks or lunch. Most of them were right on the beach, which makes for an impeccable setting for the consumption of a meal of food or fruit smoothie. Prices for everything were relatively cheap, especially considering 100% of the patrons of each establishment were tourists. A plate of chicken, rice/ beans (called gallo pinto), salad and fries or fried plantains could be had for less than $4, while beers were $1. No complaints there. One of the eating establishments, called the Lazy Turtle, was owned by a Candadian couple. The male half could easily star in a Canadian version of the Big Lebowski. He sported several necklaces and bracelets, had a pet parakeet, and was easily in the top 1% of laid-back humans on the planet. For anyone visiting, the Lazy Turtle definitely had the coldest beer in town. 

While the town has food made to order, it did not have anything resembling a food market. There was a small village of locals which we dubbed Waffle Town based simply on the fact that the eight streets looked like a portion of a waffle on a map. Waffle Town consisted of several dirt streets, a church, and a baseball field that probably hasn’t been used in several centuries. There are a few places to get bare essentials, which was enough for us: eggs, bread, veggies, water, gatorade and snacks. If you want more than that, you need to take a bus or taxi into the city of Leon, which is about 15 miles away. 

The housekeeper also doubles as a cook, and made our dinners six out of seven nights we stayed in Las Penitas. We needed to provide the food (although she bought us food from Leon once), and she charges $5 to cook an entire meal. Quite a bargain. It was amazing to be able to relax at the house and get served a huge dinner made by a local. Everything was super tasty as well, and the dog Travi appreciated every morsel of meat we chucked his way. He was one of the pickiest dog eaters I have ever seen. He wouldn’t touch any veggies, and didn’t even like peanut butter. Chicken, fish, or beef would disappear in a microsecond, but he wouldn’t eat anything else. 

Overall, it was a really fun and relaxing week in a quiet beach town. It doesn’t have much in the form of activities, so if you are planning a trip to Nicaragua and need to zipline onto a jetski that is picked up by a helicopter, Las Penitas is not the place for you. 

Today was the rest of my family’s fly home day, and I was going south to San Juan del Sur. That is Saint John of the South, for those of you who don’t speak Spanish. Getting from point A to point B in a foreign country is always an interesting experience, and today was definitely no exception to that rule. My family hired a car to take them from Las Penitas to Managua, and I planned on joining to Leon, at which point I would (hopefully) take a bus to San Juan del Sur. The driver let me know that any busses in Leon would have to go to Managua first anyway, so it made sense to stay in the car until after the airport. Fine with me, as I certainly didn’t want to add an unnecessary bus ride to whatever was in store for me today. Little did I know that my transportation day was only just beginning. I should expect these types of days now after doing an above average amount of world travel, but I just never quite know what is going to happen. 

The driver almost dropped me off at one series of bus stops, which, in hindsight, he probably wishes he did. We asked a few people at this first stop if there was a bus to SJDS, and no one said yes, so I got back into the car to try and find another bus stop after we dropped of my mom and bros at the airport. We made it to the airport no problem, I said goodbye to the rest of the Kaplans, and I got back in the taxi. Before heading to the bus stop, the driver offered to take me all the way to SJDS. I asked how much, and he said $145 in American currency. At first I didn’t understand him because it was so much money, but he confirmed I heard him right. $145 USD in Nicaruaga is a small buttload of cash, so I politely declined his not so generous offer. I didn’t know how much the bus would cost, but I was positive it would be a small fraction of that amount. 

My guess was that there must be some large bus terminal somewhere that has a big pile of busses going in all sorts of directions all over the country. WRONG. We drove around for thirty minutes and asked twenty people how to get to one area of town. Eventually, after asking women walking on the street and vendors and cops where this station was and twisting and turning all over Managua, we found the correct bus station. I gave the driver an extra $60 cordoba (about $2.50) and he was not pleased. He definitely had a look of “thanks for nothing, Mr Tourist Man.” 

I got out of the taxi, grabbed all my stuff, confirmed which bus to get on, and entered said bus. I was positive I would have to wait at the bus station for an hour or three for the right bus, but before sixty seconds go by we are off and running. This is crazy timing, although it is a bit unfortunate as I really could have used a pee break before the bus started driving. Oh well, I can hold it for a few hours. I still don’t know for sure that this is the right bus, if it is going the right way, or how much it costs. Thankfully, after about three hours and hundreds of Nicaraguans getting on and off the bus, it went the right direction. As for the cost, it set me back $50 cordoba ($2). That bus took me to Rivas, which is about 15 miles from SJDS, so I needed to take another bus to my final location. The aforementioned urine still needed to be expelled, so before getting on the bus I asked where the bathroom was. Turns out, a bar across the street is where the local urine depository was. I paid $5 cordoba to the bartender, and went behind the bar to find the “bathroom,” which was quite literally a hole in the ground. Thank all the gods, both old and new, that I didn’t need to go numero dos. For anyone keeping score at home, I paid to pee in a hole behind a tiny Nicaraguan bar, and it was easily one of the best twenty cents I have ever spent. 

The second bus successfully made it to SJDS, I grabbed my bags, and, roughly seven hours after entering a taxi in the morning, I exited my third vehicle of the day. I have officially made it to San Juan del Sur. Before leaving, I had taken a screen shot of where my hotel is located, so I started wandering in what felt like the wrong direction. After walking for a bit, and turning up and down a few streets, I couldn’t find it. I asked at a restaurant where I needed to go, and one of the workers pointed me in the right direction. Turns out I had been standing right in front of the hotel one minute earlier. Never underestimate my stupidity and the difficulty of finding a location without the assistance of live GPS. 

So far I have checked into my hotel, jumped in the pool to cool off after my wander with all my bags, eaten two meals, dropped my clothes off to get cleaned, taken photos of the sunset, and asked about surf trips. So pretty much I am an official expert of SJDS. After a great ten days with my fam, I remain the only Kaplan residing in Central America. A new day, a new city, and the adventure continues… 

First stop in Central America: Granada, Nicaragua

Another travel adventure has begun. This time, I am on this side of the date line as well as this side of the equator. There isn’t a good name for this foreign excursion yet, but it will begin in Nicaragua, go to Costa Rica and then possibly finish in Panama, covering about two months. Before even settling in to the amazing house we rented in Nicaragua, I experienced something I have never had to deal with before on all of my travels. This is a story I think most of you will enjoy. 

The trip started off as planned: a 12:40 am flight from SFO to Managua, Nicaragua via Mexico City. Traveling with my mom and brother, I checked in a bag, went to the gate where the flight was on time. We boarded and were in the air headed south before 1 am. Unless you are a small child (or a small adult for that matter), sleeping on planes for more than an hour at a time is a near impossibility. I snuck in a few minutes here and there, but spent the majority of the four hour initial stretch mostly attempting to sleep. There was proof that I least dozed off for a bit: my neck had that familiar pain from being in an unnatural position for too long. 

The plane touched down in Mexico City, and unfortunately we needed to go through the full customs process even though we were never going to leave the airport. Good times. A line to check our passports and customs documents, another security check, before making it to the gate for a ninety minute layover before the final flight to Managua. I enjoyed a donut that Homer Simpson would have loved. 

We left Mexico City on time, and I was given a view of the seemingly endless flat city, with almost nothing green anywhere in sight. A large fog of pollution hung over the vast area where tens of millions of humans reside. From the air, it looked like a much larger version of District Nine: Massive, crowded, flat, and no natural beauty. Our second flight was not very full, meaning both my mom and I had two seats to ourselves. Unfortunately, this must have been one of the first commercial jets ever created so the seats were dated, small and not comfortable. Oh, well: just another two and a half hours and we would be at our final destination. I did my best to sneak in some more sleep, curling into what felt like several hundred different positions, each one just slightly uncomfortable enough to make me want to change it up. 

The lovely Mexico City skyline. 

After landing in Managua, we once again went through customs, paid our $10 each to enter the country, and made our way to the baggage claim. This is when I was in for the biggest surprise of this barely started trip. I waited for my bag. And waited some more. And then the carousel stopped moving. I asked one of the employees “Es Todo?” meaning, “that’s everything?” He responded with an affirmative. Fuck. My bag ain’t in Nicaragua. 

There was definitely a moment of panic, and I needed to sit down in silence for a bit to gather my thoughts. I had exactly zero clothes besides what I was wearing. I did a quick scroll in my head of everything I could think of that was in my bag, in case I didn’t get it back and needed to repurchase most or all of the items. Thankfully, my important stuff was with me (electronics, camera, laptop), but my other shoes, flip flops, all my clothing, and all my toiletries were enjoying some tacos at the Mexico City Airport. Or maybe it was some churros. 

I had a bad feeling about it, and it turns out I was supposed to pick up my bag in Mexico City, take it through customs, recheck it, and then it would have joined me on the flight to Nicaragua, which was not explained to me in San Francisco. I had even asked if my bag was checked all the way through, and got a “yes,” which, turns out, was far from accurate. After using my very broken Spanish and my brother’s better Spanish, we figured out that, yes, my bag was likely in Mexico City and I could probably pick it up the next day. Ok, I can definitely survive for a day wearing the same starting to stink clothes I have worn since I left San Francisco. I will just have to make another trip back to the airport, which is a small price to pay for every article of clothing I plan to wear for two months. 

It would not have been the end of the world if I could not get my bag, but it sure would have been a huge bummer, a large pain in the ass, and a rough start to the trip. Wearing all of my clothes that I diligently picked out is far superior than going shopping for everything on the streets of Nicaragua. After rocking the same t-shirt, underwear, socks, and shorts that I had been wearing for almost two days, I did in fact get my bag from the Managua airport. It was waiting quietly and patiently by a walker in the Aero Mexico office. It was not a tearful reunion, but I sure was happy to see the fella. A lesson for all of you: if you stop through Mexico City, make sure to pick up your bag before going through customs. 

The first stop of this trip is the city of Granada, which is about an hour from Managua. Our house that we rented is spectacular: a four bed, four bath compound in the middle of the city with its’ own pool. It is one of the nicest places I have ever stayed in, and makes for an incredible oasis at anytime of the day. The locals so far have been extremely friendly, the food is tasty and cheap, and the beers are even cheaper. Granada is a fairly quiet city, especially compared to my expectations. There are cars, motorcycles, horses, bikes, and humans criss crossing the city, but it is nothing like places like Indonesia or Vietnam. Southeast Asia seems to have a lockdown on an insane level of scooter ownership.  

Granada compound. 

Granada compound. 

My first excursion was going back to the Managua airport, but I can’t complain. Paying to double back to the place where the entirety of my clothes were is a sound investment to me. Once my other brother arrived, the four of us went on a boat tour to the “Islets,” or small islands in Lake Nicaragua that are really close to Granada. It was interesting, as there are hundreds of small islands, lots of them with houses or small hotels, and plenty of them for sale if anyone is interested. Granada was a fun, small, relatively quiet city and would be a fun few days on anyone’s trip to Nicaragua. 

Another adventure has started, and as an added bonus, I don’t need to spend two months wearing Nicaraguan underwear. Next stop is the village of Las Peńitas for a week of relaxing on the beach.