If you aren’t a Facebook friend of mine, or you don’t incessantly check Facebook every day, then you probably just read that title with much confusion. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you and there isn’t another “Atlanta” somewhere in Central America. I am, in fact, back in Atlanta, Georgia, where it all started. Last you knew, I was in Nicaragua, just days away from reuniting with my Australian love. Now, before you go thinking, “Oh this is a classic travel love story where it didn’t work out….this has to be why she’s home…” — don’t. That is not at all the case. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. I promised you good stories, so here they are.
For starters, we “did” Nicaragua. I met Ginski (the boyfriend) and his best friend, in Leon, Nicaragua. It’s an old colonial town located in the Northern part of the country. A tad sketchy, but rich in culture, colors and chicken busses. Leon attracts backpackers for one main reason- and it’s not really for any of the attributes I’ve listed above. Leon is located just 45 minutes from an active volcano, appropriately named, Cerro Negro (meaning “Black Hill”). This isn’t just any volcano though. With the peak sitting at 728 Meters high, this lava-filled mountain makes for perfect volcano boarding. This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s you, a piece of wood that resembles a sled and some pretty gnarly protective wear. Once you’ve started going downhill, there’s really no going back. We did it twice, which meant two 40 minute hikes up hot, black volcanic rock. The second hike was incredibly hot. I’m actually not quite sure I’ve ever been that hot. The heat comes up from the volcano and you can feel it in the bottom of your feet. Literally. Just when you think you might be delusional and that it’s just the sun that’s making you so hot, you look over towards the crater and see the sulfur and heat pockets spewing out steam and gas. After all, you’re at the top of a volcano that could erupt (again) at any second. Have a look at some photos yourself. You can see some great footage of the experience here, courtesy of a recent ESPN special. It’s pretty cool stuff- and all for just $30!
View from the top, just before the ride down.
After we rinsed all of the volcanic ash and rock from every crevice of our bodies, it was time to head to Granada for the night. From Granada, we planned to catch a ferry to a magical island called Ometepe. We stuffed our filthy and sweaty clothes into our already overstuffed bags and began transit to Managua, then onto our final (sleeping) destination. We arrived in Granada fairly late in the evening, so we just grabbed a quick slice of pizza and headed off to bed. Our volcano boarding selves were beat, and this English-blooded girl was just a tad sunburned. We awoke early the next day, feeling refreshed and ready for more transit. We ran a few errands in town and stocked up on food in preparation for the four hour ferry ride. After a few hours on the slowest ferry on Lake Nicaragua, we saw the most beautiful sunset from the top deck. The two massive volcanoes (that form Ometepe) in the background didn’t hurt either. We finally arrived on the island just after dark and were greeted by dozens of locals offering to taxi us to various accommodations on the island. We had a pretty vague idea of where we were headed, thanks to my outdated Lonely Planet. What we didn’t know, however, was how massive the island actually was. Blame it on 3+ months in Utila, I suppose, but we really dropped the ball on this one. After an hour and a half of driving and a very patient cabbie, we finally decided on a place in Santa Cruz, one of the many “towns” on the island. To say towns on this island are “spread out,” is an understatement. We sorted out rooms immediately, ate some dinner and were off to bed again. The exploration of Ometepe was set to begin the following morning.
Sunset from the ferry. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
We certainly hit the ground running on that island. In just 3 days we knocked out quite a bit. We met up with some of our Utila crew and went for a swim in Ojo de Agua, a natural spring in a forest-like area. Oh, it had a rope swing too. Sold. We took quite a muddy walk afterwards and ate at a local spot on the beach for lunch. I even caught part of a Braves game on a little T.V. with the locals who ran the joint. I didn’t realize at the time that it was the wild card game and would be later be known as Chipper Jones’ last time on the field. Insert choice words here. That’s all I’m going to say about that. On the second and third days, the exploration continued. We rented motorbikes and cruised the entire island, hiked a massive waterfall, got a flat tire, got in a pretty interesting argument with the guy who rented us the bikes, spent the night with the Utila crew in another town (kind of on accident), ate some great food……the list goes on. We made the best of the few mishaps, and it all made for a good story. Always does. Overall, Ometepe is a beautiful place, loaded with adventure. I certainly understand why they call it “magical.”
Obligatory waterfall shot.
After 3 nights on the island, we were ready to get back to some salt water and beaches. We had heard of a popular surf town on the gringo trail called San Juan del Sur, located on the Pacific side of Nicaragua. The Utila group was ahead of us by a day or two, so we planned to meet them again for some surf. After a short ferry ride back to the mainland, and a taxi into San Juan del Sur, we checked into a neat little hostel just blocks from the beach. It was great, but we ended up relocating to The Naked Tiger, a well known party hostel that sits on a hill overlooking the San Juan del Sur harbor. Our friends were there and seemed to be having a blast. We thought we’d join. The view was stunning and the vibe was fantastic. Most people visit SJDS to surf, and this particular hostel is no different. We found the surfing ordeal to be quite pricey here, with boards starting at $10 a day and the shuttle to the beach costing another $7. A $17 day isn’t really in a backpackers’ budget, so we passed. Instead, we caught up with friends, enjoyed sunsets, played hours of cornhole and sipped on some of Nicaragua’s finest rum. And by finest, I mean cheapest. It was a killer time with an overload of laughs, but after a few days, everyone was ready for more adventure and some new scenery. It was time to hit Costa Rica.
San Jual del Sur harbor at sunset, as seen from the hostel.
Well folks, this is where the story takes a turn. Or perhaps this is where the true meaning of the word “adventure,” really comes alive in my blog. Ginski and I woke up at a reasonable hour, packed our bags and said goodbye to The Naked Tiger Hostel and all of its staff. We were headed to fetch a cab to the border, then a bus onto Tamarindo, another Pacific surf town in the north of Costa Rica. We were transiting that day with a few friends, but then splitting ways once past the border, as everyone has a different agenda. Everything was going smoothly that morning– from the shuttle into town, to the cab to the border, to the exit immigration stop in Nicaragua. It was all so easy. I believe one of us even said that out loud just before it all went downhill. We breezed right through the first bit of the Costa Rican immigration process, thinking that was it. Then we saw the long line and the Immigration office that looked like it was ripped right out of the first world. We were certainly entering Costa Rica. We stood in the 15 minute line and finally got inside, where you pick a line, much like going to the bank on a crowded day. Our friends who were ahead of us warned us that you have to have an onward ticket to enter the country. Apparently, this meant buying a $25 bus “ticket” to anywhere outside of Costa Rica. Conveniently enough, there was a lady selling them just outside of the office. We could have also bought them from the bus station, but it just so happened to be closed that particular day. We thought that before we went and blew $25 on a ticket, we’d confirm this for ourselves. We got to the window after just a few minutes of waiting to ask the Immigration “official” what we need to do. She, like everyone else there, didn’t have much information for us, nor did she seem interested in helping us sort anything out. This is pretty typical of Central America, and we knew that. It’s part of travling that area and the guys had been doing it for almost a year. That being said, it still doesn’t become any less frustrating over time. Other than telling us we have to have an onward ticket and we can simply buy one from the lady outside, we didn’t know much. Apparently, the ticket didn’t have to have a date, which (if you’re paying attention here) doesn’t make any sense. It actually defeats the purpose of having to have an onward ticket. The conversation between the official and us finally came to an end when we realized there was no getting around the $25 scam Costa Rica was running. Mind you, this is a country that “does not have an entry fee….” or so we read. We told the grudgingly told the official that we’d buy the tickets and be right back, but not before my (usually “roll with the punches” type) boyfriend muttered “Stupid Country,” out loud. Neither of us thought anything of it as we turned around and walked across the way to purchase $50 worth of bus tickets (we may never use). We just wanted to get on with our day. Before we could even get to the ticket representative, a cop (who, at this point, I can only assume is a mute) tapped Ginski on the shoulder and without using any words, pointed to the Nicaraguan border. He was looking at me as well. Again, we thought nothing of it. He then pionted at Ginski’s passport and motioned for us to follow him. He was an officer of some sort, so obviously, we followed him. He took us back into the office we just left and then to the desk of the immigration official we had just spoken with. Now I knew what was going on. Turns out, the lady didn’t like the “Stupid Country” comment and had sent the officer back over to tell us not to bother with the tickets because we weren’t getting into Costa Rica anyways. Yep. That’s right. Ginski’s passport was held for about 45 minutes as they scanned it and placed copies in a binder. Ginski was too busy wondering why they wouldn’t give it back, and I was too busy worrying about what this meant and how much trouble he was in. Typical male and female perspectives. After forcing him to sign a document, acknowledging that he broke 2 articles of something or other, they returned his passport and another officer told us to get our things for the walk back to Nicaragua. We were escorted, (yes, escorted) all the way back to the border and lectured by Nicaraguan authorities too. Ginski made sure to tell them that it’s not Nicaragua he has a problem with- it’s Costa Rica. (Side note for all of the Americans thinking “Thank god for our freedom of speech” right now. Try that line at customs in the states and let me know what they do. My guess is- it’s worse.) So, we laughed the entire way back to Nicaragua, which I’m sure the officer just LOVED. We knew it would make for a good story, and we were right. Besides, it’s Costa Rica. Sure, it’s beautiful and full of adventure, but it’s also expensive (thanks, American tourists). We didn’t know what we were going to do there anyways, so we kind of just took it as what was supposed to happen. That brings me here, to Atlanta, where I write from. We went back to The Naked Tiger that night and told the story a million times, each time getting a good laugh. We hopped on our computers the entire night, searching for ways to get around Costa Rica, since we couldn’t even bus through it. We looked at flights to Panama, to Colombia…..anywhere. Nothing worked. Flights within Central America are surprisingly expensive (try $600 one way). Then, it dawned on me. I have flight benefits through my parents work at Delta over the years. I realized that if we flew into the states, then into Colombia, it might be cheaper. Then came the kicker. Ginski found a Spirit Airlines flight on Halloween from Fort Lauderdale to Colombia for $2, plus taxes and checked baggage fees. Done. We booked it and our total was $147 total, for two people. We would spend time in Atlanta, then visit my parents who now live just north of Fort Lauderdale. How perfect, eh?
The next day, we flew to ATL from Manangua, and here we are. I’ve already worked a couple of bar shifts in Atlanta (even got Ginski one) and now we’re enjoying some time in the sunshine state at my parents’ new, forever home. Something else changed once we arrived in Atlanta though–we got bar gigs and decided to stay and make some money. Our funds could both use a good boost, so we’re settling back down in “default world” for 3 months and stashin’ some cash away. We have a place to stay, thanks to a kick ass friend, Dani, and we even have a couple of bicycles to use while we’re here. We won’t need a car and we might buy a cheap, go-phone, which will allow our expenses to be incredibly low. For us, it’s not back to the “real world,” or whatever people are calling it these days. I’m not sure how much more real life gets when you’re living out of a backpack in third world countries. For us, this is simply back to the “default world,” so we can make the money that gets us back to the “real world.” More importantly, this is still part of the adventure. Yeah, it’s not where I thought I’d be right now. It’s certainly not where Ginski thought he’d be right now. But it’s where we are and I’m happy with that. I suppose it’s easier to go back “home” when you know it’s a temporary means of getting to your other home, better known as The World. Just as I did before I left Atlanta, I will still blog with savings and preparation updates and will try my best to keep it entertaining. Given our first week back, I think that part will be easy. Stay tuned, friends! At the rate we’re going, the stories are only going to get better.
A HUGE thank you to Dani for letting us take over her house on 2 days notice. We would be homeless-ish without you. We also would be 3 AM dance party-less. Love you “heaps,” as they say it in Australian. XXX