Report Card #1

So  now we’re home in the states for a week so we’ll take this opportunity to take stock of how we’ve done so far and what it is we need to change.  Overall, it looks like our preparation has paid off.  We’ve rarely been without something we’ve needed and have never been completely unprepared.  Since leaving the US we have not met another backpacker with smaller packs than we have (we do have the added benefit of being able to share a few things) but we have met many with things we wish we did have.

Our supplies have treated us well but we are swapping a few things out that don’t seem to be standing up to the wear and tear we put them through or just aren’t quite perfect enough for our uses.  Mostly this has to do with our  wardrobe…we’ve put several reviews up this week and several more are coming.  Once we’re done with all our trips to REI and repacking our bags we’ll update our gear page and link to the reviews we’ve written.

As for budget, which is what we are most concerned with on a daily basis, we’re spending less than we budgeted but a bit more than  we had hoped to spend.  All in all though we’re not in such a bad position.  Reminder, these numbers are updated each time we finish a country on the $$$ tab.

CountryDaysFoodLodgingActivityTransMisc*Daily Avg
Mex & C. Amr.111$17.76$10.33$23.31$20.50$7.35$79.25
Costa Rica10$18.88$15.28$12.60$11.60$6.25$64.61

MEXICO:  Our first country so we weren’t so savey yet.  Having said that, we didn’t so do badly.  We did some expensive activities, several of which we would not pay so much for now.  Overnight buses and couchsurfing helped to keep lodging low but those same buses made for some high transportation costs.

GUATEMALA: This is a very cheap country.  We could have lived there very inexpensively, especially given how long we spent there.  Spanish school is the sole reason for this being as expensive as it was.   Additionally, living with a host family proved to be far more expensive than had we lived alone.

BELIZE:  Only went here to visit some family and had a wonderful time staying at their fancy (free lodging) house.  Getting there and back from Honduras, by boat, proved to be a very expensive endeavor.

HONDURAS:  Another cheap country, but we spoiled the budget here by getting PADI certified.  How dare us!  Add to that the expense of transportation to some isolated villages in La Moskitia and the island of Utilia and this country looks more expensive than it really  was.

NICARAGUA:  Not really any cheaper than Guatemala and Honduras, but as we didn’t have any major adventures here we were more on target with our spending.  That being said, this spending still represents a few small splurges.

COSTA RICA:  Really proved to be too expensive for us to do many of the things we had hoped to do…so we visited some monkey infested beaches (mostly free) instead and continued onto Panama earlier than we intended.

PANAMA:  Home to our most expensive hotel room, two overnight (low lodging costs, high transportation costs) bus rides, and finally some awesome whitewater…oh, and a canal!

Central America Summary

Central America has been wonderful, but after almost 4 months (including Mexico) we’re itching to move on. By the time you read this we’ll be in the USA for a mini break. Yay!:) The timing and finances worked out so that we’d be able to take a week or so in the States before heading to South America. Fortunately for us it coincided with the 4th of July (my favorite holiday) and the wedding of our friends Aaron and Alexis. Sometimes the stars just align like that!

Anyway, we’re really looking forward to South America. (Really we just need to verify if the toilets do indeed swirl the other direction!).  We’ve met so many incredible people, other travelers, expats and locals each of whom has helped us adapt to life on the road. We’re pro card players at this point and play a mean game of 500. :)

We’re definitely looking forward to another continent and exploring new regions, hopefully with some different food (if I eat rice and beans one more time, arg!).  Our first stop will be Colombia and we plan to move south and east across the continent.  Send us tips if you have them!

So, drum roll please…. here’s our Central America wrap up:

# of chicken bus rides: too many to count

# of times we went through San Pedro Sula, Honduras: 5

# of natural disasters: 1

# of coup d’etats narrowly escaped:1

Most number of bug bites at one time on one appendage,: La Moskitia, Danny’s foot, approximately 50

Nights spent on overnight bus: 2

Most expensive hotel room: $30 Panama City, Panama

Least expensive hotel room: $7 San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Biggest surprise: The size and scope of Panama City

Favorite Country: Honduras

Volcanoes Hiked: 5

Monkeys encountered: tons! yay! :)

Hot springs enjoyed: 3

Items Lost: 2 more baseball hats, Jillian’s bathing suit (in Honduras), one yellow spork

Best Meal: Chicken, Rice and Beans on Ometepe, Nicaragua

Favorite Snack: Chicky’s!!!!

Tica Bus- Central America

We have taken two trips with Ticabus, we will not be taking anymore.

On the first trip, from Honduras to Nicaragua, the ayudante (helper) collected $11 from each passenger for border fees. We were told the fees were $8 to Nicaragua and an additional $3 to exit Honduras. We had already exited Honduras on our own and had never paid to exit so we decided to handle the border ourselves; we paid $7 to Nicaragua and nothing to Honduras. The ayudante pocketed $4 from each passenger and then had the nerve to yell at us for taking too long…we took only two minutes but needed to wait until the officials finished processing all of the bus’s passports.

On the second trip, from Panama to Costa Rica, we left the terminal at 11pm expecting to wake up at the border when it opened. We arrived there two hours early. Why leave at 11pm only to wake everyone up at 5am to wait for two hours? Additionally, as this was an overnight bus we were shocked to find no toilet paper or water in the bathroom. The water problem was particularly surprising as when we woke up at the border we found that all our things (on the overhead shelf and by our feet) had been soaked by water from the A/C. We have taken many overnight buses and all have had a fully functioning bathroom with no flooding inside the bus.

In Central America, there are often no other direct buses between capital cities. When there is competition however, we strongly recommend using it.  Say no to Tica Bus!

Isla de Ometepe

After Leon we spent a few days in Granada, relaxing and taking in the city. From there it was a quick jump to Isla Ometepe. The largest freshwater lake in Central America, Ometepe is a budding outdoor adventure paradise. Visited but not overrun by tourists, Ometepe maintains is “wild” feel. Dominating the landscape Volcan Conception and Volcan Maderas provide hiking, animal, birdwatching, and even swimming. Combine that with the lake shore, lake kayaking and even a wild monkey island, and well, you see why we had to spend a few days there.

Heading to Isla Ometepe via ferry we disembarked in Moyogalpa and quickly scrambled onto a chicken bus towards the village of Merida. Two and a half hours later we found ourselves at Hacienda Merida, an Eco-friendly, sustainable development focused inn along the west side of the lake. Checking in we were greeted by Simeon, a guide from the local tourism cooperative who cajoled us into hiking Volcan Maderas the next day. Unable to pass up an opportunity to climb another volcano, we singed up for the climb. Cautioning us not to drink and to get a good nights sleep Simeon left us until the next morning. Needless to say after all day traveling by overcrowded chicken bus and the slowest ferry imaginable, we needed beer and headed down to the local commedor for dinner and some brew.

Thinking we might actually beat the roosters to call in dawn, we left the Hacienda around 6:30am prepared for an 8-10 hour hike to the summit and back. Since the volcanoes basically are the island, there isn’t much flat terrain and we spent the first hour gradually climbing through agricultural fields. Heading into the canopy the trail became exponentially harder and we often found ourselves climbing up muddy tree limbs precariously balanced on their roots. Huffing and puffing like couch potatoes going up the stairs, we were challenged by the hike, heat, and humidity. Literally dripping with sweat, we continued to breathlessly ascend the volcano. I’m not sure if it was the rapid speed of the guide, he told us he climbs the volcano at least three times a week with tourists, the heat and humidity or the previous nights beer, but I felt incredibly out of shape for the first time in a long time. Before traveling both of us exercised daily and participated in adventure races and extreme sports. Three months of rice and beans has clearly had an affect on our bodies.

Easing up a bit as we got to the summit, the trail continued past the summit towards a Laguna. All of our huffing, puffing and sweating were rewarded by beautiful views of the Laguna from the summit. Resting a moment, we broke out some snack and chatted with the guide before heading back down the volcano. Nothing good lasts for long, especially in rainy season and before long the afternoon sky opened up on us and we found ourselves hiking down in a river of mud. One thing we’ve learned being in Central America during rainy season is that post afternoon shower the jungle is alive with all sorts of creatures. Almost back to the agricultural fields we spotted Capuchin monkeys interested in playing or at least looking at us. Calling to them with a series of kissy noises and what sounded like Donald Duck calls, Simeon got a few of the curious ones to come closer to us and we watched them leap through the trees above our heads.

Continuing down the mountain I made a few friends of my own, unfortunately they were not the cute furry kind. No my friends, I formed a bond with the Chichicaste plant, infamous for the painful blisters that form after you come in contact with it. Needless to say I found the plant by accident. I may not be allergic to poison ivy, oak or sumac but I am certainly not immune to the charms of the Chichicaste plant. Hauling myself down the volcano, Simeon proceeded to point out every single poisonous plant on the way back down and warning me about each one. Finally, soaked, exhausted and each of us hurting in our own way, we collapsed in a pill of mud in front of our room unable to move for at least ten minutes.

Healed from my encounter with the Chichicaste, but still exhausted we decided to take the next day easy. Closer to Volcano Conception, the pools of Ojo de Agua (eye of the water) were an incredible place to rest our weary bones. The two pools of varying depths, naturally filled with river water, were downright cold and refreshing after the jungle. Things being what they are though, we miscalculated the money we brought with us and found ourselves without enough cash to take the bus back to Merida. Doing what any good independent traveler would do, we hitched a ride in the back of a utility truck to the nearest town and walked the 8 km back to Merida.   Turns out our lack of money didn’t matter. Not a single bus passed us the entire way back to Merida -we would have been waiting over two hours for the bus anyway.

Crawling into bed to once again torrential downpour, we slept like logs. Heading back to Moyogalpa the next morning our bus abruptly stopped about 10km from the town. Herding us out of the bus like cattle, the driver pointed to the road ahead and told us we’d have to walk to the connecting bus. The torrential downpours we keep talking about? Well they had triggered a massive landslide overnight that covered everything in it’s path with mud, volcanic rock and debris. Eventually we made it to Moyogalpa,  and in a panicked rush, caught the ferry and made it back to the mainland.

Volcano Boarding

Volcano Boarding in NicaraguaStanding at the top of the volcano looking down I nearly backed down.   Looking down what seemed like at least a 60% grade I could only see the first half of the run.  Volcano boarding sounded cool and looked cool, but I was sure that I was about to severely injure myself.  I know, I know, what kind of adventure travel blogger am I?  Assuring us it was easy, our guide Wilbur boarded for about ten seconds before turning around and telling us “the first 10 seconds is scary, then it gets easy”.   Hmm, I had my suspicions.

If you know me then you know I hardly back away from anything and after climbing up the volcano in 90 degree weather for over an hour there was no way, no matter how scared I was that I would turn around.  I just had to convince myself that I wouldn’t die in the process.

Clipping into my bindings, I angled the board towards the bottom and quickly headed down the volcano.   I’ll admit, it was much easier than it looked and I had no trouble maneuvering the board or controlling my speed.   In fact most of the way I wanted to go Crater of Cerro Negro in Nicaraguafaster not slower, but had a difficult time clearing the volcanic rock from my board.  I quickly felt confident enough on the board to try jumping and carving a little.  Cruising to the bottom without much excitement (really no falls or anything!) I turned around to see Danny flying down the volcano.

As part of the briefing our guide casually mentioned to Danny that his board was “slightly” faster than the others.    According to Danny it was more than slightly faster.  Although I missed seeing it live (I was cruising down on my own), Danny had an “eventful” time heading down the volcano.  I think the video speaks for itself:

Congratulating ourselve at the bottom for making it down, we all agreed that a ski lift needed to be installed.  There was no way we were hiking back up that steep grade with the boards, but we definitely wanted to do it again.

Volcano Boarding Cerro NegroThe walk up Cerro Negro was also spectacular in its own right.  Sure we’ve already been mere inches away from lava but it was nice to tour inside an active crater, feeling the heat from the activity just and below the surface, and smelling the sulfur.  Hiking around the rim of the crater we could feel the heat eminating from the ground and looking out at the surrounding valley it was easy to see the destruction this volcano had caused in its short lifespan.  The youngest volcano in Central America, Cerro Negro appeard about 150 years ago transforming the topography of Leon.  Erupting several times since then the last significant eruption was in 1999.  With all of the steam, heat and activity instide the crater, I agree with the locals, it can’t be long again before another.

Interested in Volcano Boarding? Check out our Volcano Boarding Review!