Sunday, January 26, 2014

Isle de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Remember the time I said, "we heard the Isle is kind of a pain to get to"...ahh, those were the days of just saying those words and not really experiencing the reality.  Here are all the types of transportation that took us from the beach to Ometepe:
-mini boat
-taxi (equipped with the best 90's jams and booming bass)
-mini bus (just a quick 4 hour trip!)
-ferry (me: "what time does the ferry leave?"  ferry captain: "eh...I don't know, maybe 2pm, but maybe not with the wind, so maybe 4pm but maybe a little earlier if we are ready and the boat is working, but maybe not at all")
-shuttle bus
-20 minute walk up a dark, rock path 

My horse taxi

First mini-boat

We had literally no plan once we got onto the ferry, we got as far as knowing we had to take the ferry, and then beyond that I guess we figured a plan would just create itself and take us somewhere amazing.  It's worked so far so why change it up?  While on our hike we met a Swiss couple who told us about an eco farm they stayed on called El Zopilote.   That's all we knew; no idea really where it was, how long it took to get there or if we could get a bed there.  Perfect combination.  

The ferry and ominous looking volcano 

We made our way off the ferry and just wandered around looking for a bus or a horse or a kayak to take us there.  I saw a beat up yellow bus coming toward us and happened to give it a second glance and saw "El Zopilote" written on the side.  YES!   I ran over and didn't so much ask, but more told the guy that he was going to give us a ride.  After earning our keep, by our I mean Michael did a ton of heavy lifting and I watched the bags, by loading plywood into the back of the van we threw ourselves in and sat on top of the wood for the hour ride to the hostel.  
One last push up the rocky path by headlamp to make it to reception where they told us, sadly, there was no room available.  But, if you remember such famous blog posts as the "Tent on Top of the Bed, Inside the Room" then you will see that we have the ultimate safety net of a tent.  Every smart hostel offers camping for around $3, so into the tent we went!  The hostel was kind enough to give us 2 sheets, so I became nice and familiar with the ground that eve.  It wasn't that bad actually; just rolling over every hour once a side of my body fell asleep.

Our tent hidden in the woods

Upgrading to a cabinita big enough for our hammock! 

El Zopilote is a fully sustainable farm with filtered water (filtered from used shower water), permaculture farming and my personal favorite: compost toilets.  For example: waste water gets irrigated to water the garden, that grows the food they cook and then we eat.  That same water gets filtered again to become drinkable water.  I like staying at places that offer more than just hammocks and cheap drink specials.  

We rented a scooter and toured both sides of the islands; also making it to a natural swimming pool filled with spring water.  *For my Chico babes, it was like Bidwell Park without the drunk college students.  Just drunk Nicaraguans.  I wanted a turn as driver so we took our bike onto the beach so I could go slower and who doesnt want to drive through waves?  Sadly, my driving was short lived because I got scared when playa dogs chased our scooter down the beach.  

Bidwell in Nicaragua

Up next, we may try to head over the border to Costa Rica, or we might end up at the beach again.  It hasn't been decided, but we know whatever the choice it will be just amaaazing :)

The Beach, Nicaragua

Whoa, blogging and keeping up with life in general isn't the easiest when our locations decide to take it back to 2008 when backpackers didn't come with their IPhone 5's and Ipads and there was no wifi.  But, I guess I can trade wifi for some delicious waves, sand that will never come out of my hair, and darker versions of my freckles.  

The moment we got back from conquering the volcano hike, we decided to use the last moments of energy and make the move to the beach.  We thought, eh, maybe a taxi ride and then we can fall into a hammock somewhere and nurse our blisters from the hike.  Well, the route to our next hostel didn't prove to be so dreamy.  After a 45 minute taxi ride to a mystery bar somewhere, we loaded ourselves and our bags into a tiny little boat in the pitch black.  The boat ride under the stars was magic until we were dropped on another beach and told to walk 20 minutes...that way.  So after 2 days of hiking up and down volcanos I found myself again with my massive bag on my back walking on a beach to...somewhere.  I only threw one fit and it lasted for a brief 10 seconds, so I consider the walk a huge success.

Finally, we made it to our oasis: the Surfing Turtle Lodge.  This was literally in the middle of nothing and we only found it by hearing the bass of the beach music and seeing a light in the far off distance.  Never have I ever been so happy to find a hostel or toss my bag across the room and swear to never put it on again.

Their version of a taxi

Our first home, splurging on a private room for $35

One of my favorite sunset spots of the trip.  Oh and that surf braaah in the water, he's gnarly

We had planned on only 2 days, but 4 days later we were finally ready to leave our little paradise.  Michael got in a ton of waves (if you didnt know, he's totally a surf braah now) and I brought my serious skills to the sand volleyball court; mostly so I could justify eating and laying around all day.  

Next up, we will journey to the far off land of Isle de Ometepe.  It's an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua with, wait for it, volcanos sitting on both sides.  We hear its quite the pain to get to so im ready for these volcanos to rock my world.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Leon, Nicaragua: Hiking Giants

Our first real stop in Nicaragua will be Leon.  If you can believe, cause I couldn't, we hopped on another bus just a few hours off our Breaking Bad 18 hour busride.  Smashed in the back of a 14-person mini-van we took the 2 hour trip from Managua, Nicaragua to the second largest city, Leon.  The big reason we headed north to Leon is because Michael found a tour group that leads overnight camping/hiking trips.  I had decided a while back that I needed to throw myself into something uber physical and outside my comfort zone; because clearly roaches, food poisoning and caves haven't been enough. 

We spent a few nights in Leon just bouncing around; it's a cute colonial city with 10 churches in a 5 block radius and its own skate park.  Skate park?? WOWWW!!  I know, its not a ton to report on, but we did enjoy a beer on a roof. 

One of the churches with its historic lighting

Sunset over a skate park

Our hike started on the third day at 7:00am.  I figured we would get a backpack, throw a few light clothes in there and the heaviest item would be my toothbrush.  These guides weren't messing around though and upon arrival we had to fill a large backpack with water for 2 days, food, plate ware, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and then our clothes.  My bag was heavier than the one I came with holding 3 months of clothes.  

Here is what was accomplished in 2 days:
-1 hour drive to the first volcano
-2 hour hike up the youngest volcano in Nicaragua
-Throwing our bodies down said volcano, riding a "volcano board" which was basically a poorly made snowboard 

-I got a bee sting!!
-Hiking straight up a volcano, for 3 hours, with a 35lb bag strapped to me- much heaving happening at the top

-Setting up camp next to a massive crater that could have been a movie set from 'Aliens'

Can you find me next to the crater?

-Campfire, the most delicious s'more I have ever worked for, fall asleep at 9pm 
-Up at 5:30am for the sunrise..wowwww

-Put those shoes back on (ow, blisters!) and the bag on some sore shoulders and hike for another 4 hours down some seriously unstable and un manicured terrain 

-Finally making it to a lake for a shower/dip
-Put the bag back on and hike up another steep hill for another hour
-Take 2 buses back to Leon and crawling back into the tour office from exhaustion 

I only had two moments of being on the verge of tears, but those were outweighed with my feelings of accomplishment.  Michael was also, again, the definition of support and kept me going when all I wanted to do was throw my walking stick and pout on the side of the hiking trail.  
It was absolutely amazing and the perfect introduction to the kind of sights Nicaragua has to show off. Now, it's time for the beach.  Give me a hammock and food that hasn't been sitting in my backpack for two days.  

Finally sitting down and taking the pack off for the first time.  Heaven. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Breaking Bad Bus

I would like to extend some very important thank you's:
The first is to Richard Seiler (Michael's wundahful father) who allowed us to tap into his Netflix account.
The second is to the creators of Breaking Bad.
The third is to the genius who decided to grace the King Quality bus line with shotty, but workable wifi.

Our 18-hour busride was semi-manageable because of all these factors.  We splurged for the top of the line bus to take us from Guatemala City to Managua, Nicaragua and one of the perks, besides the questionable meat dish and hot dog they served, was that our buses (there were 3) came with wifi that allowed us to watch 8 episodes of Breaking Bad while cruising through Honduras and El Salvador.  Granted, every 5 minutes we had to do the dance of pausing while it buffered, shutting down the app and stroking the IPad for good luck that our saving grace show would come back on.  

Holding the IPad, praying it would stop buffering and give me Walt back.

It wasn't actually that bad.  We were confused for 90% of the ride because all announcements were made in lightning-speed spanish and we would randomly follow people off the bus and onto a new bus with no real explanation.  It made MegaBus look like they had their stuff together.  Breaking Bad may have been a questionable choice to watch while crossing the borders.  Even though I had nothing to worry about, the experience of having a narcotics officer go through my bag at the Honduras border left me with some drenched palms.  

Crossing the border from Guatemala into El Salvador.  There was a strike at the border, so we had to actually walk across the bridge into the new country.  Our bags were still in Guatemala at this point, we just hoped they would join us on the other side. 

At the beginning of the ride.  There was still happiness in our eyes.

The aftermath

I have no more pics from the ride, mostly cause I don't need to remember the inside of that bus.  Now it's time to dig into Nicaragua!  We have earned it. 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala ----> Managua, Nicaragua

Guatemala you have been good to us!  You were full of some of the most gorgeous landscapes, natural springs, hostels with lots of little multi-legged friends and delish beans and rice.   We have spent 3+ weeks here and gotten a nice full plate of what Guat dishes out.  But, it is time to move on to a new love: Nicaragua!  

We finished up our week on Lake Atitlan and had an amazing time in our massive house on the hill.  I will say, I am sad to go because this house had the most unreal views I have ever lived with and it was fun to bounce around each town by boat.  But, the hike up to the house left me without breath for a few minutes and every night we shared our home with a little guy we like to call Jeffrey: a massive spider that sat watching us and who we hoped would just sit tight on his wall.  The house is yours, Jeffrey.  We give up.  

Our final breakfast on the patio.  Ugh. 

On a hike up to the Yoga Forest.  So zen-like. 

It is now time to physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually prepare for an 18-hour busride taking us from Guatemala to Nicaragua.  We will speed through Honduras and El Salvador, but we are skipping both countries as a late Chanukah present to both of our families.  Those countries haven't proved to be the safest according to the gov. reports (what do they know?!) so we figured make everyone happy and sit on a bus for a day and breeze through them.  See you on the bus! 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: How to Get Around

So, you have two choices of transportation here at Lake Atitlan: a rickety boat crammed full of hippies and locals that will leave you as drenched as sitting in front of sprinklers for an hour, OR your little feetsies.  Yesterday, we decided that the latter of the two would be our method of transportation to walk from our little town of Jaibailito to the hippie-mecca of San Marcos.   To get anywhere outside our town you can either walk to the right for 3 hours or to the left for about 30 minutes.  Oh, and these aren't just little skips down the path of flowers.  These are hikes where hands are necessary to pull you up a rock face and balance is appreciated on some skinny paths.  DAD: I have great balance and I wear sunscreen and a hat the whole time.  

We made the journey up and down valleys and mountains to get to San Marcos.  Yes, I was sweating and panting for most of it, but the views were so worth it on the water breaks.

One of the staircases 

The game of 20 questions comes in handy and so is a fun hiking partner.  After a few rounds of games and Guatemalan cookies (actually just chips a'hoy) we made it to San Marcos; you can feel the crystals and good vibes from far far away.  

Rewarded with a street burrito and a play on the playground

A cute, local pup; if you look closely you can see teeth on his "chew toy"

Our hike ended at the edge of the town in the nature preserve, which is a gorgeous view and a deck to jump off into the lake called "the Trampoline".  Sorry, no cool pics of either of us...just envision it.

We did some shopping at the local "Whole Foods" (otherwise known as the sidewalk) and made it back to our humble abode for another deeeelish home-cooked meal of veggie quesidillas, fresh garden salad and zuchinis.  Not a bad way to end a day of hiking all over this Lake.  

Local grocery store 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Antigua ---> Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

On the move again!  After our rush of adrenaline on New Years in Antigua, we made the trek west to the beautiful sites of Lake Atitlan.   Before I tell you about the Lake, I just want to show some gorgeous shots of our final home in Antigua: EarthLodge.  It is set, wait for it, in front of a few volcanoes and looks over the town of Antigua.  We got some good hiking in and good use of the hammock in our treehouse.

After saying goodbye to our house in the trees we jumped on another bus, this one boasted one flat tire and some questionable driving skills through the mountains to get us to the lake.  
The Lake sits in between 3 different volcanoes and all around it are several towns, all of them with different personalities and vibes.  And I do mean viiiiibes maaaaan.  The Lake has attracted many hippie yogies over the year, so I have seen several heads of multi-colored dreads and patchouli wafts through the air as I walk by people wishing me Namaste.  You can imagine the pace of the Lake is...umm...sorry, I just drifted off maaaan...

Our first home at the hostel La Iguana

We decided that after almost a month on the road living in hostels and eating from menus it was time to do our own thing.  The house hunt led us to our castle on the top of the hill.  This pretty little shack will be our home for the next week.  Time to cook, work a little and discover what else the Lake has to offer.

A view from the porch

The first meal!  

This house has been the location for my 2nd go 'round with food poisoning, so I am thankful for the comfy bed and wifi so I can watch Summer Heights High on the balcony.  Michael is off hiking a volcano today while I take down tea.  I told him to take lots of pics so we can share the sites of the top of the rock, but I wont take credit for the 3 hour hike up; that's all him.  

One more fun/insane antidote.  The method of getting from town to town, if you don't want to hike 3 hours, is to jump on one of the Lake's shuttle boats.  These boats can carry around 30 people max, which of course means at high time they try to push the limit of personal space.  We got on a boat yesterday on a particularly breezy day.  That meant jumping the boat over these swells and using their technique of a boat windshield: a massive tarp that everyone in the front has to hold up.   No tarp?  It's like being on a ride that at the end sends you shooting into a wave of water.  There will be no dry rides here at the Lake.

Waiting for my chariot to take me through the waves

The Tarp Method 

Tomorrow will be a new day, with no food poisoning!