Saying Goodbye to Dreamland (/Nicaragua)

When I woke on the hammock the next day, it wasn’t to the usual sound of vendors and neighbours shouting at each other, it was to the (comparatively) gentle crowing of roosters. The entire town was in recovery and many of the streets were empty. The hungover silence continued into the night, and it was the only time the magical 2am club on our residential street didn’t start blaring music. San Juan Del Sur seemed happy, but hurting!

The next couple days were basically spent surfing and drinking on the beach. Although I still ride like I’m the queen of noobs, I could tell I was getting at least SLIGHTLY better. Even though Playa Madera was smaller and more crowded than Hermosa, I caught more waves in my first half hour than I did the whole day (shuddup, I feel accomplished, okay!?)

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All the surf helped me work up enough apetite to fully enjoy the pleasures of Nacho Libre, not the wrestling or the movie, the restaurant. A gourmet burger place, it served a variety of funky burgers with names like “the big wang”, “yoga ass” and “curvy italian”. I eventually decided on “Bust a’ Nut”, because a burget with peanut butter, cheese and bacon just seemed like the most terribly amazing idea on the face of planet!

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After entering a peanut-beef-bacon food coma, the last day brought some sad goodbyes, but a lot more rushing from taxi to chicken bus to airport to airport to airport. The entire trip just seemed like a dream, and I was sad to wake up, but my next adventure to Singapore was just around the corner, and I couldn’t sleep through it!

NYE Nica Style

New Years Eve is a big deal in San Juan del Sur. Over the days leading up to it, stages seemed to magically pop up across the beach and hotel room prices doubled and tripled.

During the day, Tom and I hiked up to the Jesus statue overlooking the town and although it was a 30minute hike – it was STEEP! Like basically walking up a wall, Spiderman would have difficulty with this steep!

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Even though my legs wanted to murder me, the rest of my body thought the hike was worth it, and we celebrated conquering the hill with a pre pre drink.

After getting back to town, we met up with the rest of our group and splurged on a delicious fancy lobster dinner – for 10$. I’m still in shock at how lobster that rivals the taste of its buddies on the east coast of Canada can be so cheap, but I also feel like its one of those things that I should just enjoy and not question.

The actual night took us to one of the magical venues that popped up out of nowhere, involved a lot of water and champagne rain and ended with me waking up outside on our hammock. All in all, I’d say the new year was rung in well!

San Juan Del Surf

(The town was technically San Juan del SUR, but considering it’s beachside location, “del surf” felt just as appropriate).

San Juan held an interesting dynamic, growing as a destination for surfbums/backpackers and rich Managuans at the same time. Consequently, the town developed 2 district sections divided by a river that runs partway through town before drying up meters from the ocean. I didn’t realize how different the 2 world’s were until I stopped inside one of the nicer hotels so some of Tom’s buddies we met up with could use an atm, and I realized that my feet didn’t even know how to react to a patch of ground not covered in sand anymore.

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Anyways, you’ve probably guessed the main draw of San Juan, and may already know that learning how to do this has literally been one of my biggest dreams for years. So you can imagine my excitement once I got my first board rented and trucked to the gorgeous Playa Hermosa just outside town. After practicing my ability to pop up from my stomach to my feet on a makeshift board drawn in the sand, learning how to paddle through waves and balance on the board, I was ready to catch my first wave (easier said than done). After a couple bumbling wipeouts, I finally caught it: not just the wave, those feelings of thrill and zen connection to the ocean you get along with it as well. The (admittedly tiny) wave carried me back with what needed to be far more grace and power than should be possible between just water and board. I rode the wave in, and ran right back out to chase another.

(on a side note, this excitement was probably too much for me, I got back that evening with a rashburn up my stomach and a sunburn down my back – definitely a sexy surfer girl – awe yeah!)

We came back from the beach and made our way out to the Black Whale, one of the bars along the beach strip in San Juan. We’d only been in town for a couple of days, but I felt like I knew half the people there already. A guy we split a taxi from Rivas with was playing foosball, 2 marines we met at the beach were stumbling in and out all night and one of the people we were renting a room from kept popping up. It was strange to have built up such a base in such a short amount of time, but refreshing after the constant movement of the past few days. The night got even better as a Spanish reggae band started playing and fire dancers started performing.

Jungle Living Treehouse Style in Granada

Our stay that night brought us to the Poste Rojo hostel just outside Granada. Unfortunately, it didn’t get us there until after dark, or all the way up the hill to where the hostel was actually located. This meant a lot of trekking back forth, up and down several hills and with all of our baggage in the pitch dark. Fortunately, finally getting to our private treehouse was more than worth the hike. We had our own hammock, mosquito netted bed and a patio seating area complete with a trapdoor. The real draw of the moment, however was back at the main bar area and larger treehouse complex. Since it was the appropriate phase of the lunar cycle, Poste Rojo was hosting one of its famous full moon parties. I broke it down on the dancefloor, became a canvas for permanent marker art AND was still able to make the trek back to our own treehouse without getting eaten by any of the Chupocabras we were warned about! An all around success in my books, if I do say so myself!

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The next morning, we were able to fully explore the rest of the hostel, climbing to a lookout platform and beyond into branches. All too soon it was time to pack up again and continue our journey south.

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Leon Doesn’t Need Tobogganing Hills, it Has Volcanoes

It’s about a 2 hour car ride north of Managua to get to Leon, so we decided to Chicken bus it. Basically just he nickname given to city-to-city public transportation in Central (read: school buses from the1970s), I’d been warned about these buses being infamous for crowding and blaring terrible music. However, my first experience involved ample amounts of space and curtailed windows. Before I knew it, we were in the historic city of Leon.

I figured New Years would be a difficult time to book a room, but I thought we’d be okay for just the night of the 27th. Hah! I can be so silly sometimes! After checking pretty much every other hotels in the entire city, we were finally able to find a room at Casa Vieja: famously described by Lonely Planet as being the cheapest option to stay in Leon, this fact was reinforced by the fact that our key came on a chain with an ornament shaped like a  girl who looked like she should be tattooed on the arm of a biker. None of this really mattered though, since the place also had a rooftop patio with the most comfortable oversized hammock I’ve ever been in.

After getting settled, Tom and I went to the Fratangas for dinner. Basically, an outdoor market that grilled basically anything you wanted them to (the fact that your meal was served with a massive helping of spicy sauce also helped)!

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After drinks at Bigfoot Hostel, we crashed in time to get up for the main reason for going to Leon to begin with – volcanoboarding.

Ranking as one of ten”Extreme Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors“, “Death Defying Travel Destinations” and “Adventures for Active Travelers“, volcanoboarding basically involves taking a wooden toboggan down the side of a volcano at speeds of up to 90km/h. After an hour drive outside Leon and another hour climb up the Cerro Negro volcano (easier said than done when you’re carrying a toboggan along the volcano’s ridge and through 50km/h winds-strong enough to be blowing me in circles for the extent of the treck), we had reached the summit. After a few obligatory photos, we were ready to begin our descent.

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Our guide pulled out 2 sets of elbow and knee pads (my knee pads were missing the straps and slid to my ankles after about 2 seconds) and told us the more we leaned back, the faster we’d go. After volunteering to go down first (watching anyone else crash would have just freaked me out, but I’d think it was hilarious if I did the same), I quickly learned that our guide failed to mention that even a slight motion to the left or right would drastically veer the whole board in that direction. Fortunately, I was able to make the connection between drastically flailing around and crashing to my death before the matter actually happened. I didn’t break any speed records, but was quite pleased with my 50km/h run. From there, I watched Tom make a successful run, and a couple people from another group end up crashing and eating volcano dirt. Then, we watched our guide make his professional run down the volcano. Now in this case, I’m using the word “run” literally. He literally bounded down the volcano so quickly, I’m pretty sure he was actually flying for a portion of it (at this point, my speed suddenly felt less impressive since I’m pretty sure it got beaten by this guy on foot).

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The whole experience was exhilarating (a definite recommendation) and was only improved being topped off with some of Nicaragua’s best cheese wrapped in and drizzled over a tortilla with onion in a quesadillo.

Central America should really be its own continent

I know North America extends all the way to the Panama Canal, but after a full 22 hours of short haul flights and overnight layovers, scorching-hot Nicaragua felt pretty freaking far away from Toronto!

(Since I’m a hospitality student, I’m going to rant a bit about airline service (*cough* American Airlines, *cough*) now, so feel free to skip ahead.) a straight flight from Toronto to Managua (the capital city of Nicaragua) would be about 6-7hours. On any 6-7hour flight, you would get a selection of movies, a meal and enough leg room for a 5’4″ girl to be comfortable. BUT, when you split that flight into 3 sections, you get to starve, watch all your electronics run out of batteries and sleep in a closed-up food court in New York. This isn’t to say that the whole journey was terrible, I was actually quite impressed with my overnight layover in Texas. The airport kept the lounge areas open, so I was able to get a luxury sleep on a comfy couch, and almost immediately after I woke up feeling slightly chilled, a magical angel-man came by and gave me one of those blankets they give away in first class. He didn’t say anything else, but the gesture made me realize that the 15 other fliers and I were kind of connected. I don’t know if it was just my naive Canadianism, but it made the whole situation feel slightly less crappy and let me get enough sleep to be fully energized for my arrival in Managua.

I love traveling with no checked package for 2 reasons: first, I feel like a professional packer everyone I travel light, and second, I just feel superior to everyone else on my flight when I can whiz past them when they get tied up at baggage claim.

After a dramatic airport reunion with Tom, we were off to our first destination: Leon.

 

Because pre-vacation vacations are all things in my life

So, I’ve spent the past couple months excitedly freaking out about moving to singapore like I was 12 and about to meet One Direction (or who ever’s hip with the youngins these days). Butbutbut… Before that adventure, I decided to let Tom convinced me to come to central (really needed to twist my arm with that one…). All I really needed was to know was that it would be warmer than Canada, so I packed my bags (2 carry ons, 0 checked) and was off to Nicaragua!

I feel like I’m starting a pre-“serious” (work/school) trip trend of taking off to an exotic American destination (Peru –> Banff and Nicaragua –> Singapore). I feel like this is something worth continuing in the future – I’ve never been to Ecuador or Argentina and they both seem amazing!