A Travellerspoint blog

Flying in the clouds

And getting mud on your face.

all seasons in one day 20 °C

Believe it or not, the combination of a comfortable bed and the sound of strong winds gave me the best sleep I had so far on this trip. I woke up energized. We are going to the Monteverde Cloud forest today - one of nature's best. For some reason, Omar was surprised to see me. Tucan had told him that I was not supposed to tag along with the group because of insurance reasons. But I had my own travel insurance and would never want to get him into trouble.

Once we entered the park, we felt obliged to find something, anything. And we took our time. There was a hanging bridge in the middle of park. I had a feeling of rebirth when crossing the bridge, a sense of serenity when there is nothing but misty branches and hanging veins around me. For a second, I wish the birds and animals here can share their world with me.

After more than an hour, all we found was a blue ant, an invisible hummingbird and lots of spiderwebs. Chris and Gareth started to poke around with a stick. All of a sudden, we arrived at a viewpoint. On a nice day, one can see as far as Argentina. But today the visibility was less than 20 metres. We were literally inside a cloud forest. I felt like an angel. Only if I could stay here longer, all my worries would go away.

Like many others, I wrote our names on the platform. The return hike was much faster knowing that the chances of finding any frog or snake was next to zero. A hummingbird showed off her flying skill right in front of us. In times like this, one has to wonder who the creator of these beauties was. There is no envy, greed or gluttony in this world. Only survival and harmony if we human leave it alone.

Coincidencely, both Gareth's phone and my watch were behind so we missed our tour van for a few minutes. Nevertheless, we took advantage of our free time to visit the hummingbird garden and watched a raccoon family. It costed only 300 colones to go back to town with the public bus, compared to 1000 with the van.

My attempt to purchase bus ticket failed since the office was closed for lunch. The local travel agency suggested a private van for $39. Needless to say, I chose the public bus ($4) instead which would take me straight to the airport before reaching San Jose. After the chicken bus experience in Nicaragua and coming fron the big apple, I think I can handle a 4-hour bus ride by myself just fine.

Our afternoon adventures were the Skywalk and Skytrek. Almost the entire group went. Once we signed a disclaimer, the workers patiently put the oversized outfit and equipment on me. The waist belt and harness were so heavy that I felt like pregnant the whole time!

To my surprise, the first couple zips were really fun! I was able to look down and enjoy the panoramic aerial view of the forest below while zipping from one hill to another. The 'George of the Jungle' zipline took me through a canopy of trees in lightning speed. I felt like an eagle flying towards a prey. The most intimidating one required us to climb up an exceptionally high spiral staircase which was swinging in extremely high wind and next to no visibility. One by one, we disappeared into the clouds. Our faces and bodies were covered with mud when we came out on the other sides - exhilarating and hilarious at the same time. Everyone was teasing at the new pattern on my white Puma jacket which was now covered with mud.

I was chosen to go with Tina on the first double zipline. We slided off the platform perfectly. I kept my legs up but Tina started to lower her legs about half way. We started to slow down. She was losing her grip. We finally stopped about 100 ft. away from the landing platform. Without hesitation, I immediately tried to pull myself forward with the cable. We couldn't initiate momentum no matter what we did. One of the workers finally slided over and brought us back. The second double zipline was with Gareth. We made it almost all the way but 10 ft away the landing platform. If there is a minimum weight involved, I should have more lunch.

Following the zipline, we did the skywalk - a walk on series of hanging bridges between short trails. Perry and Don, the Canadian brothers, took pictures while the rest of us tried to stablize ourselves and enjoy the breathtaking view. I promised myself to come back here and spend time with nature again.

Chris, Gareth and I visited the frog pond after dark. We saw these amazing amphibians in action! No wonder they are on every postcard of Costa Rica. Dinner followed. A scorpio rumbled on the patio of our restaurant while I was placing my order. First time I saw one moving around freely, completely oblivious of the disturbance he caused. The saxophonist played again, still breaking after every other song. Old habit I guess. We finished dinner and headed back to our hotel. I only wished that I can say goodbye to everyone before the night is over.

Posted by shinenyc 15:41 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

It's the frog, the toad, the snake and the viper!

It's Monteverde.

sunny 20 °C

An early morning start again. I woke up early, filled up the gas for my Peugeot, returned it with Ofri and bought some bakery for breakfast before hopping onto a van for another boat ride across the Arenal Lake.

I tried to stay awake in the boat but the movement and sound of the waves rocked me to sleep with the scenery in my dream. We landed after 45 min. and took another van up to Monteverde. You can enjoy a nice massage on your behind sitting in the back of a van on these roads. The mountain scenery from the van was absolutely breathtaking with plenty of coffee plantations on the way.

My first impression of Monteverde was very rocky and dusty. But that was about to change. I got my own room at Don Taco for $20 a night. A small price to pay for a good night sleep finally. We went to Morphos for lunch. Another restaurant with murals and metallic sculptures all over the ceiling and wall. (I could get a job as mural painter in this country if I ever decide to move.) Omar translated the sopa special 'sopa del maíz' to 'Soup of mice'. Chris and Gareth ordered a 12-inch sub which looked more like 15-inch when they came. Hmmm... Is this why men in central america have so many baby mamas?

I had an entire afternoon myself to explore with a map of Santa Elena and places of interest nearby. So I started with the Frog Pond, not realizing most frogs are only active at night. Nevertheless, our tour guide was very young but speak very good english. We went thru over 20 different species of toads and frogs, including the Blue Jean, the Green Jean, the Glass frog, the poisonous Black and Green frog and the most beautiful 'Gaudy' frog. It was well worth another visit since my ticket was good for two.

I walked aimlessly up the trail with occasional shops on the side. However, the 4x4s and dust had gotten to me after a while. I found a very trendy vegetatarian cafe, ordered a fria cafe con leche and grapped a spanish newspaper to read. A small room displaying delicate jewelery from local artists next to a bathroom with very modern design. For a brief moment I thought I was in West Village. Next, I headed to the direction of the sign that points to the 'Butterfly Garden'. There are a few garden-styled lodges and nueva fusion restaurants. I'm very impressed. The path to the Butterfly Garden went on and on. Finally I reached a Victorian styled-building but the woman in an ATV bike informed me that the garden just closed. Instead she offered me a ride back to the intersection in her ATV bike. Good compensation. I kept walking up the dirt road with some strange glare from a few locals. After another 30 minute, my instinct told me to turn back or else I'll probably be walking in the dark by myself. I took a photo next to the road and started to walk down.

Just when I was debating if I should catch a taxi, a very old Jeep stopped right next to me. A friendly middle-aged man offered me a ride back to Santa Elena. I hopped in. There were a few water containers in the back and pineapples in front of my seat. He asked me if I am a Japon or Chino and I asked him how old the Jeep was. The manual stick was almost a metre long! If my espanol was better, I would have asked him to let me drive. He dropped me off safely in the town centre.

Another hour to kill. Best thing to do instead of walking back up the hill to our lodge - go online. I found an internet cafe in no time. By 6:15, I was outside the serpentarium waiting for the rest of the group to show up. The sun was setting behind the low wall and scrubs across the road. It reminded me of the sunset moment the night before and wondered if I would ever have a chance to spend sunset this way again.

The serpentarium had an eerie feeling. Once the rest of the group arrived, our guide took us into a room full of reptiles, explained to us the difference between vipers and snakes and how to tell if they are poisonous from their colors. Very interesting info just in case we encounter them in the cloud forest tomorrow. In the next 45 min., we saw rattle snakes, pythons, lizards, even turtles and more frogs. It was definitely worth the visit.

We came out of the serpentarium into the breezy weather of the mountains and decided to go to the Treehouse restaurant for dinner - a restaurant built around a huge trunk with two stories. Right after we ordered, a saxophonist started playing. Since I had not listened to any jazz for two months, this average performance was enough to distract me from the conversations at the table. As if trying to make his fans stay longer for the next set, he took breaks after every other song. A little annoying after a while.

Time to pay - the cost of dinner was a little pricy given that we are all backpackers traveling in the developing countries. A shrimp bisque, a stuffed avocado appetizer and iced lemongrass tea costed me almost $15. The jazz made up for it. I was in a sentimental mood after dinner and decided to do some postcard-writing in my balcony.

Posted by shinenyc 11:36 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Heaven and hell

Prescribe my medication anytime, doctor...

semi-overcast 23 °C

I couldn't sleep at the hostel. The loud vehicles and my slight fever kept me shivering in bed all night. In times like this, I wish someone can take care of me. Being or trying to be independent can take a toll on any woman in a certain way. Anyhow, feeling a little better after a cold shower in the morning, Kristy, Anthony and I checked out our hostel and took a taxi to the Atlantico bus terminal for the bus to La Fortuna.

This bus ride was a real torture! But you could not expect too much out of a 4-hour ride for 1250 colones, the price of a subway ticket in NYC. I felt nauseous the entire time and can't wait to get off the bus and lay down in a bed at a hostel.

Finally, the ride was over. But the search for hostel was not. A few people came up to us at the bus station trying to sell us a room for the night for less than $10. I was not in the mood or have the ability to make a judgement, so I left it to Kristy and Anthony. They checked out couple places in town and finally settled for a room. At this moment, Omar, my beloved tour guide, appeared and got me a room right next to his. It may not mean much to him but I was pleasantly touched.

Next, I threw up, in my 'own' bathroom. Let's just leave it at that. It could be the alcohol or the fish or just from not being able to sleep well for a week. Who knows? Feeling better afterwards, I walked over to the Adventure office and got my ticket to what I came to La Fortuna for - the hot springs! Back to the hotel, I took a short nap watching the Travel Channel. When I woke up, the slight fever sneaked back on me and my body started shivering again. My first-aid pouch only had cold/flu medications, nothing for fever. How can I forget to pack essentials like this? I have no choice but to drag myself to the groupmates' rooms and see if anyone can give me some medications.

It was Ofri and Chris to the rescue this time. I took the ibprofin and invited them for the hot spring. It was the least I can do. I knew the warm water will rejuvenate my body and my muscle.

So here we are, at the Baldi's Hot Spring resort. It took no time for us to store our belongings and jump into the springs. What a change after taking cold showers for more than a week? The best part was to go under the spot where the warm water comes down and feel the pressure in my head and back. This is better than a massage. This is heaven!

I'm not sure what they serve for drinks in heaven. For a while, I hesitated to get anything because of my condition. Then my doctor, Mr. Kahlon, convinced me to have some vodka. I don't know why it makes complete sense to me at that moment. I had my first dose and felt stronger after an hour. Omar, Perry and Don joined us. We had dinner with the rest of the group who had just came back from their volcano trip. No lava.

These hot springs were set up like the water ride in an amusement park. The higher they are, the hotter they get. Gen, Tina and Lauria were already sipping cocktails at the bar in the middle of the final spring on top when I arrived. I had my second dose of medication and felt almost completely recovered by this time. We joked around for a while and headed back down to change. The rest of the night was history...

Posted by shinenyc 09:05 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Free day in San Jose

In other words, laundry and internet.

sunny 22 °C

After a quick breakfast, Gen, Tina, Ofri and me headed to downtown San Jose to look for ATMs and laundromats. It felt a bit weird carrying a few pounds of dirty clothings on a busy street with sored muscles. Finally, we found a place who only charged 3000 colones for 3 kg ($2/kg) compared to $2 per shirt in our hotel. What a deal!

Overall, San Jose is very much like a small American city with Macdonald, Pizza Hut and KFC everywhere, historic buildings and museo. I felt like I was in the Queens, with a vast majority of people there are hispanic anyway. The bancos here are modern and efficient, reminded me of those in Hong Kong. One thing that really amazed me during this trip - there are plenty of internet cafes everywhere, even in very poor areas. Going online is very cheap and it is very common to see people making phone calls over the internet. Why bother to buy a phone card for $1/min while you can talk for free over the internet and pay only $2/hour to go online. Maybe the fact that not everyone has computer at home explains the popularity of internet cafes. Maybe they are just for tourists. If this is the case, New York City has to lot to catch up. Besides Starbuck, Kinkos and a few other places with wi-fi connections, it's very difficult to find a place just to go online if you don't have a laptop. After an hour of surfing, Tina, Gen and me went shopping on Avenida Central. I bought a new pair of jeans and sandles to reward myself on the volcano hike. We all got what we wanted.

Kristy and Anthony were already waiting for me at the hotel reception. We were supposed to go to our hostel on the far side of Paseo Colon on Calle 40 and Avenida 2. A 2000 Colones taxi ride later, we checked in. I was excited to have a room by myself for the first time. Once we settled, we took another taxi to the Coca Cola bus terminal to look for the La Fortuna bus. After a few wrong stops, we finally found the Atlantico bus terminal and bought our ticket for the next morning.

Getting out of the Coca-Cola area was quite challenging, there were drug addicts 'working' on some corners we passed by. The streets were lined with food or household stores with so many locals that we had to watch every step just to get out of there. After a quick stop at MacDonald, we visited briefly the art and craft market. I picked up my laundry afterwards and walked back to the hotel to join the group for dinner at Newscafe. During dinner, I met the couple in their 60s from New Zealand who just joined our group. How wonderful to have a traveling companion at this age! To grow old together and share your life experience with each other.

Afterwards, the younger bunch decided to check out the night scene. There wasn't much in San Jose. Most clubs are located in San Pedro where the university is. We stopped at an irish pub with the owner self-indulging with his own singing (some country folk/rock songs) and a few American girls embarrassing themselves with their altitude. Gen and I chat in the back of the pub. After a while, it had become apparent that my ear was refusing to listen to the music anymore.

Unfortunately, the cool new lounge I had planned to go in San Pedro was too far. All of us have to get up early. On our way back to the hotel, we found an empty bar with a pool table and sofas. Not a bad place to kill some time with a few games. We settled in.

I would love to spend a few more days to explore this city but tomorrow we are heading to the nature!

Posted by shinenyc 21:49 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

From Granada to San Jose

Orgasma with the boys

semi-overcast 20 °C

Another early morning rise to take the local boat back to the mainland. I fell asleep on the boat almost right away. No time to waste. From the pier we took taxi to the Nicaragua border. Our cab driver were playing disco songs that were older than any of us but we dared not to complain. I exchanged my cordobas to colones and walked across the border into Costa Rica with the others and our backpacks.

San Jose is about 4 hours away from the border. I sat next to Gen on the Tica bus. She is one of the smartest and most confidence women I know. We are the same age. I respect her. We talked about many things including men and work. But this ride still gave me a bad headache. We finally arrived at the Coca Cola bus station of San Jose, not the best area for first impression. We quickly hopped onto a few taxi and headed to our hotel in the historic area.

Our restaurant for farewell dinner is only half a block away. It was beautifully decorated with elegant murals and mirrors. I have been longing for a glass of wine for a while. Now I had my chance. Three glasses, a nice sea bass and lots of pictures later, we said goodbye to some of our group members.

9:30pm was too early for bed. So me and the boys decided to stay for another drink. I initially hesitated to switch to cocktails after the wine, but gave up when everyone was ordering cocktails. I pointed randomly on the upside down menu and sure enough, it was the 'Orgasma' with white creme de cacao, amaretto almond liqueur, triple sec and vodka. It lasted for at least 20 min. Not bad :) We had great conversations and I was getting better at Chris and Gareth's British and Irish accent. I felt quite honored to meet such great guys on this trip who are smarter and more mature than their American counterpart of the same age. What a breathe of fresh air from New York where most men tend to care about no one but themselves. That night, I had a 13500 colones dinner. Felt like a millionaire for the first time!

Posted by shinenyc 20:47 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

If I would have known ...

You have to make the most out of each day, even if it means to have to get up at 5 am with a slight hangover and climb up a volcano.

overcast 23 °C

I really don't know how I did it. A few hours ago, I had difficulty finding my room in the dark. A few hours later, still dark, I was waiting in the reception with the Karin, Micha, Kristy, Anthony, Don, Rada, Ofri, Gareth, Chris and Tina to go for the 6km Volcano Madera hike and swim in the crater lake. Of course, nothing is perfect. I was not in my hiking outfit. I did my best just to wake up.

We had breakfast at a cafe with little chicks running around. The size of my cafe negro con leche was not even enough to make me conscious. My hangover was not bad, just fatigue. A nice English breakfast and a little hammock definitely helped.

So the hike began. My hangover was gone by the first kilometer. We stopped at a viewpoint to look over Volcano Concepcion, an active one erupted just a few months ago. About half way up, we were inside the cloud. The trail got muddier and harder to climb as we went. At some point, my entire shoes and jeans were in the mud. For someone only 5 feet tall, climbing slippery rocks and trees more than a feet high for more than 30 minute at a time is tremendously demanding. My determination pushed me up each step. By the time we reached the highest point of the volcano, my excitment had overtook my physical exhaustion. We were very eager to jump into the crater lake, only a 20-min downhill hike away.

Going downhill was a real killer to my legs. By the time we reached the crater lake, my enthusiasm had disappeared. I decided against swimming if it meant that I had to take my heavy jeans off, and back on. It was too much to handle. I took the time instead to rest my muscles and get ready for the 5 km down hike.

As expected, going downhill was worse. I have phobia to it. Mentally, I felt like the 20th mile mark of a marathon - running with your mind, not your body anymore. I slipped more than a few times. Everyone did. Luckily, Ofri was behind me for a while making sure I was ok. But I was still very cautious and slow. I wish I had longer legs so I could climb or jump over those slippery rocks.

A decade later, we finally reached the dry land. I secretly thanked god for pushing me this far. I can definitely compare the level of difficulty of this hike to the heavy snow race in Central park and icy water race in Cleverland. This day will be remembered as another successful challenge to myself, physically and mentally. Inca trail -I'm ready.

Back to the hotel, the first thing I did was to go to the lake and washed all the mud off my shoes and jeans. I finally managed to take off the 10 lb I have been carrying for hours. I had such a sense of accomplishment in the warm water of the lake.

After a cold shower in the dark with no electricity, I went for dinner. It was Karin and Micha's last night. They decided to stay in Nicaragua with their friends rather than going to San Jose with us. Karin was very well-prepared and spoke fluent espanol. I've already asked her to keep me updated on her asian loop in August so maybe I can join her to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, all the places I longed to go for a while.

Micha insisted on another drink to celebrate our accomplishment. But we were so tired at this point and could barely move away from the reception bench, the celebration drink will have to wait, when I visit Germany. I gave them a big farewell hug before going back to my room and crashed.

Posted by shinenyc 17:38 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ometepe Island - here we rum

sunny 27 °C

A healthy fruit and cereal with yogurt breakfast at the Waffle house with Karin, Micha, Gen and Tina started the day. There were a couple of older white men accompanied by young nica women next to our table. Quite a common sight in the carribean and central america.

After breakfast, we loaded a cab with all our bags, then walked to the bus station next to the local market for the 'chicken bus'. The sight of having your bag thrown on top of an old american school bus with hundreds of others may worry most in the beginning. But the professionals handled it very well. They do it everyday. The bus was not as crowded as expected although some people had been sitting inside for over an hour. In the 'land of mañana', it will be more surprising to actually catch a bus that is on time.

The ride was rather smooth. We finally arrived at the Ometepe Island ferry. The ferry which sank the day before was right across from us with the rescue effort still going on. We had no choice but to go on a really old wooden boat with a top deck (for goods). There was no seat available. So I figured sitting on my hammock next to a chicken is better than the wet floor. I had a nice nap with the sound of the waves. I felt safe, for some reason.

About an hour later and some organized chao, we picked up our backpacks and took another van to our hotel Paradiso. Everyone was ready for an early dinner and drinks at this point. The light went off for a minute during our dinner. Between Micha and I, we must have about 10 to 15 Cuba Libre that night. Some great conversations with Omar and Perry later, we joined Gen, Ofri and Chris for cards.

It doesn't take long for me to pick up this game considering my alcohol level. At least I succeeded in not being the 'asshole'(the loser) until much later because an asshole has to give their best cards to the king and in return for his worst. Why even in card games, the poor had to sacriface for the rich?

Posted by shinenyc 16:47 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

$10 Hammock at Masaya Market

sunny 27 °C

Masaya Volcano, or 'Popogatepe' (mountain that burns) according to the indians, is one of Nicaragua's most interesting and beautiful natural phenomena. One of the craters, Santiago, was showing gaseous activity when we arrived at the national park in the morning. According to the brochure, Masaya volcano was an object of veneration by the indigenous people during the pre-columbian age. They believed the eruptions were signs of anger from the gods and to appease them, they offered small children and maidens as sacrifices. Later, the Spaniards 'baptized' the volcano and placed a cross on the crater lip to exorcise the evil spirits in the 16th century. The last eruption was in 1772. Santiago was formed 80 years later.

It was quite a sight to be so close to the opening of Santiago. We walked up to see the other crater which is now covered with lush vegetations. One can't help but feel insignificant coming face to face with nature like this.

After a healthy dose of sulphur gas, we arrived at the Masaya market for some tourist shopping. In one hour, I managed to buy a pair of $2 earrings made of shell, a wristband, a skillfully-crafted wooden box that shaped like a cat and best of all, a hammock! Just an average quality one. Compared to the $95 high-quality hammock I purchased in Granville Island, Vancouver, this one is well worth it. My most expensive purchase of this trip - $10.

Before going back to the hotel, we stopped at a local market that shaped like a maze, with stores that sell everything from household, clothings, toys etc. The stores were so close to each other that I felt suffocated just trying to get out. Chris was smart to lay down on top of our van and absorbed the nica sun. I would do the same thing next time.

Back to Alhambra, me and Tina went for lunch and then checked out the jewelery vendors. I headed for an internet cafe to download the pictures from my camera. Then we all went for dinner at a spacious but crowded pizzeria. With the right people, even average food can turn into great conversations and good time. By now, we are ready for a little clubbing!

We managed to pick up Omar and Micha on the patio of our hotel, AND Karin who had already retreated to spending the night watching movies. Omar suggested that we should all go pick up Giocondo. The next minute, about ten of us were waiting outside her house. Who could refuse such an invitation?

Our first stop was an empty local bar playing latin pop and reggaeton. Next, El Club, the spot with a moroccan vibe popular with foreigners and cool locals. It felt like nyc here, except the price of drinks were less than half. So we ordered a few caprinia, enjoyed the atmosphere and even danced a little. On our way back, Omar danced along Gioconda's singing on the empty nica streets. What a night.

Posted by shinenyc 15:36 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Granada, Gioconda, Granada, Gioconda

No more William Walker stories...

overcast 25 °C

The day started with a quick breakfast on the patio of Alhambra with Kristy and Anthony, a very nice couple from Australia who was working in London before this trip. Gioconda, an attractive nica woman in her late 20s or early 30s, was waiting for us already in traditional Nica costume, a long off-shoulder black dress with a few color stripes, her hair tied up and heavy makeup.

Gioconda started by taking us to a monument in Parque Central. After explaining the history of Granada for about 15 minute, she sang the national anthem. Some nica stopped and removed their hats while she was singing to show respect to their country.

We then walked thru some historical sites such as the pre-columbian stone in the center of town (now used mainly for directional purpose), a monastery and a nice church. The view on top of the church tower stretched all across to Lago Nicaragua, a hugh fresh water lake in the middle of the country. Rumors had it there used to be sharks in the lake until the Japanese came and killed them for profits. So thanks to the Japon, we are now safe to cruise around in speed boats without worry. She sang a few more songs on the way.

Between the morning city tour and tour of Lago Nicaragua in the afternoon, I managed to skip lunch and relaxed in the hotel pool for a short while. It's all worth it after walking under the sun for hours. The water was freezing and a bit greasy, however. No big deal. It was the swimming that counted.

We started our afternoon speed boat journey into the lake by taking horse carriages thru some bumpy roads with tons of tiny flying creatures on the way. Once on board, we saw some private mansions belonged to local business families and also foreigners. There are literally hundreds of tiny islands in this lake. At one point, we saw a house with a confederate flag. One has to wonder if this world has really moved forward as we thought it did in the last 200 years. We got off on an island with a fort and treated by another singing performance by Gioconda. Cruising thru the wetland and marshes, we saw the residence of literally thousands of birds, some hugh nests hanging from branches and captured monkeys.

I always love sunset by the water. Just haven't had a chance to experience it for a while since DR. This time, the sun was glowing behind an abandoned russian cruise boat. No one in Nica knows how to fix this boat it so they just left it here for years.

By now, it was getting dark and our boat was swinging pretty heavily with the waves. We were all longing for the shore, esp. Gen who had already o.d. on her sea sickness pills. It must be the silence that bothered Gioconda, she suddenly stood up and sang another song, making the boat more unstable than it already was. No one had the heart to ask her to hurry up but we all had just about enough of her voice at this point.

Finally, we landed but it was not over yet. Gioconda took us for a long walk in the dark to the local train station. The moon was out by now in the distant far side. Rada and Don walked off to have their romantic moment. It was the loudest open-air train I had been on with music bumping and locals screaming at almost every passer-by. I grapped onto a bar and took a picture of this crazy scene. All of a sudden, I heard someone calling my name from behind. It was two local men asking me to take pictures of them. I was not sure in the beginning because of the experience I had with the indigenous woman and her baby. A minute later, everyone around me was calling my name. The situation was uncontrollable! When I took my camera out, they all cheered! Is this natural high or what?

Giocondo's tour was officially over. Her passion had impressed all of us. And she charged next to nothing for it. Omar and I decided to have a drink with her in the parque cafe, maybe we can see the other side of her, the not-so-talkative side. We did. We talked about lives, work and even relationships over dinner at a local restaurant. Gioconda even got a bit emotional at one point because of her frustration at being a smart and educated Nica woman. Married women in most of Central America countries are still being treated as 'maids', according to her. On the contrary, it's ok for men to have babies with multiple partners. We walked Gioconda home after dinner. 10 minute later, her mother finally opened the door, obviously still angryed at her or the fact that she lost her key a few days ago. Poor girl...

It must be the atmosphere of Alhambra. Gen, Gareth, Chris and Micha were drinking and chilling over the porch next to the swimming pool when we got back. Without hesitation, we joined them. I have to admit that the chemistry was amazing for people who have only met for such a short time. Everyone was easygoing and have no hidden agenda. After a while, I headed back to the room and joined Karin for 'Spiderman 2'.

Posted by shinenyc 10:31 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

From Tegucigalpa to Granada

Long traveling day

overcast 25 °C

We took a few cabs early morning to the Tica bus station for the bus to Magagua. But first we had to cross the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Well, the border was just a rope. If someone dare to run across without proper identification, I'm sure an intense shooting will break out. Let's hope it didn't happen while all of us were there. I exchanged my lempira and dollar to cordobas. An indigenous woman and her child came over to beg but didn't want me to take pictures. Later I was told that they believe camera will take their souls away. Well, no more inconsiderate tourist act. Instead I gave some cookies to the children. We waited for about an hour at the hot and dusty border crossing before boarding the same Tica bus to Managua.

Managua, capital of Nicaragua, was not much of a place for tourists. So we didn't spend anytime there. Only to transfer to cabs and another van to Granada. What's better than striking a conversation and introducing yourself to others when everyone is stuck on a van? I met Chris and Ofri, two graduates from London and Israel respectively. Ofri actually lives in South Africa! This group is as diverse as I can hope for. Almost everyone I met so far treat me with such exceptional friendliness without stereotyping. After living all these years in the states, I can definitely get used to this!

During traffic, I noticed a woman waiting for a bus with two live chicken, one in each hand. Talk about avian (bird) flu. Why is the western world so paranoid about this virus? We rarely get to handle livestock. I can't help it but wonder if this paranoia is another fear factor used by our governments to generate profits for their buddies in the pharmacetical companies. There is nothing wrong to warn and prevent a potential very dangerous virus. However, it is downright ironic to see just how much our lives are affected by the media if we let it. Why are people in nyc always worry and complain with everything when they already have more than they ever need. No offense to my 'peeps' in nyc but you probably know what I'm talking about.

Our hotel in Granada, Alhambra Hotel, is definitely worth a long day of traveling. We were at awe just to see its beautiful facade. And it came with a pool! Alhambra was the best hotel in Granada facing the Central Square with locals sipping coco tea, selling jewelery and crafts and young people listening to reggaeton. What did we do to deserve this?

I am rooming with Karin for the next two nights since there is no triple rooms in this '5-star' hotel. By the time we started to unpack, Chris was already in the pool with his football. Sagittarius style! While waiting for dinner at an actual hostel across the square, Alhambra staff treated us all with a complimentary Cuba Libre. Great way to get the night started ...

So there I am, sitting at the head of a really long table in a hostel reataurant full of colorful mural. Omar started talking to a woman sitting quietly outside this hostel, named Gioconda, who became our local guide (and a friend). After couple Caprinias and pescados con ajo y arroz (fish with garlic and rice), some of us decided to check out the city's night scene.

After wandering for about 20 minutes, we finally found the Monkey Bar, supposedly a cool bar with locals and foreigners. However, we decided not to stay because there is just no locals in there. We then followed the music to El Club, a cool spot with moroccan vibe. At this point, we girls were a bit tired and decided to head back to the hotel, leaving the clubbing for a later day. Me and Karin slept soundly with the TV on.

Posted by shinenyc 18:46 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

First time in Central America

From NY to Tegucigalpa

semi-overcast 23 °C

Today I'm officially in the backpacker league. A single girl flying to one of the world's poorest country in the world, Honduras, from one of the richest. After waiting for about an hour to go thru immigration at the airport, I was finally admitted to the country. I exchanged some dollar into lempira right away and took a cab through some poor areas to the hotel relatively close to the town center of Tegucigalpa (on Avenida Maximo Jerez) to join the rest of the Tucan group who went to Rotan to see Mayan ruins that day. Not until now that I realize that I should have arrived a day earlier.

Anyhow, the lady at the hotel gave me a really nice room. Nothing fancy but everything was clean. So I unpacked, did a little sovenoir shopping at the market nearby and Parque Central. The streets are filled with people, old american cars bumping reggaeton and old school buses. A few clothing, electronic stores and bakeries later, I walked into a public market selling everything from toys to bags to underwear. I tried to be careful but couldn't resist the temptation of taking a few pictures at this version of 'shopping mall'. To me, it's not a big culture shock since I've friends who live in sub-standard conditions in some carribean countries. If you ever step foot outside the tourist and resort areas, you will notice.

Somehow, I wandered into the church in the center of the public square. Just when I sat down to rest my feet, people started coming in. I realized the friday service was about to start. So the curious me decided to stay since there is nothing better to do until the meeting later. The service included some hymn singing, praises by the priest and of course, a little donations from everyone. Since I don't understand, I followed what others did. It was really refreshing to see the strong faith from people in these poor countries. After the whole service, everyone shaked hands with everyone around them. I had a few strange glares at times but mostly warm hand shakes and smiles from men and women of all ages.

Now I'm still have more than an hour to kill. So I decided to look for an internet cafe. There are plenty of them - power of the internet! I spent about 30 Lempira ($1.5) for an hour of replying emails so hopefully none of my clients will realize that I'm actually on vacation.

My first impression of Omar, our Tucan guide, was rather nice. He is from the Netherlands (half morrocan) but lives in Guatamala City. Very friendly, down-to-earth and actually admitted right away that this is his first international tour. What's better than exploring new places with a new tour guide? At least his espanol is better than me, so there we go... At the meeting, a very cute german 'couple', Karin and Micha, also joined us. I know I'm about to meet some of the coolest people on earth. I fadely remembered a Chinese fortune teller a few years ago telling me that I'm supposed to meet Mr. Right when traveling by myself. Not that I am supertitous. It was really my Sagittarius curiosity and travel addiction that led me to do this tour rather than anything else.

After the meeting, I had to switch to a triple room. My new roommate, Gen from Canada and Tina from Wales seemed very nice. Gen was a bit under the weather at the time. Tina still had her braids from Antigue. That night, the rest of my group decided to go for Pizza Hut while David, Elizabeth (another very nice couple from Australia) and I went for Chinese. I am not about to settle for an American chain after escaping from it on the first night. Surprisingly, the Chinese version of 'Gambas al Ajilo' (Garlic shrimp) was very tasty. So tasty that an early sleep sounded like a very good idea.

Posted by shinenyc 20:58 Archived in Honduras Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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