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!

Review- Boquete Outdoor Adventures

Boquete Outdoor Adventures offers the usual array of adventure activities: whitewater rafting, canopy tours and multi-day trips. Luckily for kayakers they also have whitewater kayaking equipment and tours. We’ve contacted a number of adventure outfitters throughout Central America looking for whitewater kayaking equipment. 90% of them never got back to us and the other 10% tried to sell us on rafting tours. Jim, owner of Boquete Outdoor Adventures (Boquete, Panama) returned our email [ad#reviews] within 24 hours and not only ran down our options but gave us plenty of information on the surrounding area and other activities. We opted to attach ourselves as kayakers to a pre-booked rafting trip, but when we arrived in Boquete we found that the group had canceled. Without a second though Jim told us that the two of us could do the river anyway with just kayak guides so we headed out early the next morning on the Rio Chiriqui. Our guides, Demus and Jose were excellent, really experienced kayakers who knew how to have fun on the river. The guided us down without babying us and despite my hesitations (my previous river run was awful), they made sure we challenged ourselves. Although they were professional and focused on safety, it was more like kayaking with friends who knew the river rather than paid guides, which made the experience even better. The Rio Chiriqui was a pretty straightforward Class III at lower levels, and we were able to read and run most of the sections without a problem.

Although we did not do any other tours with Boquete Outdoor Adventures, our experience kayaking was great. We highly recommend them for adventure activities.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal… Panama

The same thing forward, the same thing backward…a palindrome. We had finally made it to the Panama Canal.

Arriving in Panama City at the crack of dawn presented a new problem for us. Usually when we arrive at dawn we walk into a hotel and sleep for a couple more hours. This time we walked to six different hotels before finding one (which ended up being the most expensive thus far of the entire trip) that didn’t want to charge us by the hour. Things were really going well.

As one of Spain’s first settlements in the Americas, Panama City has tons of old Spanish ruins. To be honest, these weren’t particularly special but what was interesting was the museum at the ruins of Panama Viejo. This museum detailed the history of the Spanish Conquest and Panama’s importance 400 years ago. Spain used Panama to move goods into the Pacific ocean and to colonize the Pacific side of South America. Later burned by English privateers, Panama City was rebuilt and continued to act as method of commerce between Europe and the entire Pacific. It would be two hundred more years before the French would first begin working on a canal (in then Colombia) before Panama gained independence and allowed the US to do the job.

After two wrong buses we finally got to the the big ditch…also known as the Panama Canal.

The Pacific side of the canal has two sets of locks and one of these, the Miraflores Locks, has a museum and observation deck where we learned about the canal’s construction and watched two boats lowered simultaneously in two different locks. While watching I couldn’t help but think that with two locks side by side the water could be recycled between the locks, rather than require a constant flow of water from the lake. It seems however that the abundance of water here lead the canal designers to ignore this option and instead fill the locks with water from the lake and then send the same water out to sea. As part of the canal expansion plan, there are talks of building new locks (just like non-engineer Danny thought up) so that bigger boats will be able to use the canal. I’m sure the original locks were designed this way for a reason but that reason eludes me for now; anybody care to shed some light?

Panama City is by far the most modern city we’ve visited in Central America, yet it still has its quirks. City buses are still old US school buses and some even play music when the horn is honked…rather than the boring sound of a honking horn. Mostly though, it shopping malls and skyscrapers reminded us more of the USA than anywhere else we’d been so far.