Costa Rica: 2/27-3/4

Tamarindo >>> La Fortuna (Arenal) >>> Santa Elena (Monteverde)

2/27
+ Today we had originally planned for Corey to go surfing, but his thumbs had not fully recovered from the scooter accident so we chose to forgo the free surfboards offered by Pura Vida hostel and just go exploring instead.
+ We decided to grab breakfast smoothies at a restaurant Liz’s relatives recommended called Nougi’s. It was a nice spot right on the beach to hang out in the shade and people watch.
+ After we had our fill of turning down trinket peddlers every few minutes, we left and went down the road a little until we found a Soda (local restaurant that serves Tipico food). One of the few cheap restaurants in town. We had lunch there and planned out our route for the day.
+ Our plan was to spend the day at the beach. We walked along the Tamarindo beach and since it was low tide we explored the rocks and tide pools, looking for sea life. We didn’t see much however, so we continued down the beach until we got to the river crossing, which separated the beach from the Marino Las Baulas National Park.
+ This area was another long beach on one side (with absolutely no trees or shade of any kind) and an estuary on the other side where you can take river trips with local guides to look for crocodiles. We opted to just pay the $1 to cross the river and skip the $20 river tour, since it was basically what we have in our backyard at home.
+ The beach on this side was a lot calmer and had clearer water, so we went swimming for a while. We eventually decided (after our 3rd coat of sunscreen already that day) that it was simply too hot (with zero shade) to stay any longer so we headed back across the river and found shelter at a restaurant on the Tamarindo beach.
+ It turned out the restaurant was connected with the Brewery we had stopped at the night before, even though they had different menus and names. We got their half order of “Big as your Ass” nachos and had some more craft beers.
+ We then headed back towards the main part of town, while we stopped into different tour agencies to inquire about onward transportation the next day.
+ When it was time for sunset, we grabbed some beers and found a nice place on the beach to watch the sky turn orange and purple again. These sunsets definitely weren’t getting old yet!
+ On our way back to the hostel we decided to finally become official backpackers and cook at our hostel for the first time! So we popped into the grocery store but ultimately decided to just go cheap and easy and cook Ramen and Mac n Cheese. Just like the good ‘ol college days!
+ While we were carrying the groceries to the hostel, a Howler monkey crossed the street right in front of us. He was almost crawling across the ground trying to be sneaky as possible.
+ After dinner was over at the hostel and our bags were packed, we chose to spend the rest of the night lounging in hammocks at the hostel (skipping the expensive and rowdy party scene) and prepare for our next Costa Rican destination, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park!
+ While we were planning in the hammocks, some guys at the hostel next to us started smoking weed out of a seashell and going on and on about it. They were also repeating how amazing Tamarindo was and how they could stay forever. To each their own, because we did not really share the same feelings and felt that 2 nights in Tamarindo was plenty and that we had enjoyed other beach towns earlier in our trip much more.

2/28
+ The next morning, the shuttle bus we signed up for arrived at our hostel exactly on time at 8 am to pick us up! This was a first for Central America! Luckily we were ready and loaded into one of the more comfortable buses shuttle buses we had been on so far.
+ Our 5 hour ride to La Fortuna was split in half with a stop at a touristy rest stop that had a bunch of Scarlet Macaws hanging around in the trees. We skipped the overpriced snacks offered there and instead ate the subway subs we had bought the night before for the trip today. (Corey loves subway and it’s one of the foods he misses most from home).
+ We switched buses at the stopover area and although our second driver was a little more reckless, we managed to arrive safely in La Fortuna and checked into a really nice big private room we had reserved at a newer hotel called El Secreto. It even had AC! This was a welcomed sight after the last 5 or 6 days in dorm rooms.
+ After soaking up the cool air on our comfy king bed for a little bit, we headed out into the city to explore and pick our excursions and tours for the next few days.
+ We ended up picking a tour that included hiking 2 volcanoes, visiting multiple waterfalls, going over some hanging bridges, checking out some nocturnal wildlife, and ending with a soak and mud bath in natural hot springs! We reserved 2 spots for tomorrow.
+ A huge pizza restaurant with flashing lights and delicious looking pictures was too tempting to pass up so we got dinner there and ordered their extra large pizza. Turns out that extra large is for like 6 people so we had more than half leftover to take back to our hotel with us, but that’s Ok because leftover pizza is still just as yummy!
+ Back in our room we got ready for our big long day tomorrow and then passed out.

2/29
+ Our hotel stay came with a free breakfast of Gallo Pinto so we ate that up before we set off at 8 am for our first destination, La Fortuna Waterfall! This was a huge 70 foot tall waterfall that you reach after walking down 500 steps. Corey went swimming at the bottom of the falls, but Liz was too chicken for the cold water.
+ On our way back up the steps, we passed a couple that had just gotten married and were walking down the steps to the falls still in their wedding dress and tux! We hope that dress stayed white and not too muddy!
+ We then met up with the rest of our tour group for the 2 volcanoes tour (we did the waterfall part on our own). On the tour, we met some nice Canadians and tons of Germans. This seemed to be common in our travels, as Canadians seemed to be the most prevalent, followed by Germans, Australians, and British folk.
+ Our hike up Cerro Chato was about 2 hours through cloud covered rainforest and got progressively muddier and steeper as we went along.
+ Along the way we stopped for a break and while people were snacking, a Coatimundi was running around trying to get free food from people.
+ At that point we were on the highest point of the mountain and from there it was a 30 minute hike down into the crater to swim in a volcanic lake! But those 30 minutes were by far the steepest and muddiest. This made for tough hiking and climbing.
+ At the bottom we went swimming and ate lunch as a few more even braver Coatimundi were actually stealing people’s lunches right from their bags! Just like monkeys or raccoons.
+ During the 2.5 hour hike back up and down the other side of the mountain to our next destination, we didn’t see any wildlife but we did enjoy walking through the cloud forest/rainforest.
+ Along the way we walked over 2 hanging bridges, and saw another impressive and secluded waterfall, plus a toucan flying overhead!
+ By the time we made it to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, it was dark and we got to hear some of the nocturnal sounds of the jungle. At the lodge, we walked to a pond and viewed some of the famous, red eyed frogs that Costa Rica is known for.
+ Wet and cold because it had been raining for 1-2 hours now (and we didn’t have our rain jackets), we loaded the bus and traveled to a natural hot spring in the river. It’s popular amongst both locals and tourists so it was pretty packed but it was still neat to be in a natural one as opposed to a man made one. At the springs, we were served Costa Rican cocktails and given mud facials by our guide with exfoliating volcanic mud.
+ After an hour or so of making new friends and letting the mud dry to make our faces look like a ghost, our 12 hour excursion came to an end and we were driven back to our hotel. We then spent the next hour cleaning all of our muddy stuff off before taking a nice hot shower and climbing into bed to watch some cable TV, what a luxury!

3/1
+ Today we are going to just lounge around our nice room and catch up on some things we had fallen behind on, such as research + planning, uploading pictures, and the blog (and a wonderful nap!)
+ After relaxing in the room and some more leftover pizza, we went into town to book the rest of our desired activities for our remaining 2 days here.
+ We booked hanging bridges through a different part of the Arenal Volcano National Park and a hot springs excursion at a really nice resort nearby that we had heard great things about. We actually found a great deal with the springs that included dinner and was about $22 cheaper than anywhere else we had seen (they gave us the national Costa Rican price).
+ Dinner was at a very busy Soda that came recommended and was a good, cheap meal (although again service was severely lacking – a theme in Costa Rica so far).
+ In our room we just watched some stuff on our tablet before calling it a night.

3/2
+ We spent the first half of the day doing the same thing as the day before and enjoying our comfortable bed and A/C.
+ We headed out to town for lunch, again at a local soda to pay 1/2 or 1/3 what we would at the touristy restaurants.
+ When we were finished with that, Corey got a hair cut at a local barbershop! His first haircut overseas and conquering another milestone that officially makes us long-term travelers!
+ After that we grabbed our bathing suits and day pack and caught a taxi to Baldi Hot Springs Resort. We were worried the place would be super crowded and resemble Wet n Wild back home (as it’s the largest hot springs resort here and most family friendly), but we were pleasantly surprised to find most of the 27 pools empty or at least sparsely populated and still very serene and tranquil.
+ We spent the first 4 hours there pool hopping between all the different pools of varying temperatures. Most of them were the natural thermal pools ranging from 96-115 degrees, but they did have an area with a natural sauna with 152 degree water, as well as some cold water pools dispersed around the property too.
+ In one spot, they had 4 fun slides that you could go down, so Corey went down all of them a few times while Liz hung out in the pool at the bottom and served as the videographer. The slides were surprisingly fun and best of all, there wasn’t a 30 minute wait each time like in Orlando!
+ Our dinner reservations were at 8 and it was an all you can eat buffet! Needless to say, this was a welcomed break from our normal meals and the first time we had eaten at a resort during our travels. We stuffed ourselves with all the different foods and about 6 kinds of dessert, including a chocolate fountain!
+ The last hour was spent pool hopping again and Corey managed to make it to all 27 pools! The pools were even more empty now and we felt really pampered having these massive luxurious pools (complete with steam, lights, waterfalls, swim-up bars, etc.) all to ourselves!
+ The rain started coming down just as we finished up and we changed and caught a taxi back to our hotel.
+ Back in our room, it was finally time to pack up our bags to leave the next day, despite Liz’s plea that 4 nights wasn’t enough! This place definitely was one of the nicest and most comfortable places we had stayed at during our trip so we were reluctant to leave.
+ While flipping through channels in bed, we managed to find Mary Poppins in Spanish! So we watched that for a while listening to the dubbed songs and laughing.

3/3
+ We were checking out today and catching the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer tour to Monteverde in the afternoon. But beforehand, we were doing 1 last adventure in Arenal, a Hanging Bridges tour through the canopy and jungle!
+ After breakfast our shuttle picked us up at 8 and it was a bumpy 45 minute ride through the jungle. When we arrived, we met our guide Nancy who gave us a debriefing before we started our hike. Nancy was a great tour guide and took her time to explain all the different plants and find us as many animals as she could.
+ Even though we didn’t see any monkeys or sloths, we did see 2 Crested Gwan’s, spiders, birds, a morpho butterfly, a toad, an eyelash pit viper, and she got a Tarantula to crawl out of it’s hole!
+ We also stopped at a couple of great view points, 2 waterfalls, and hanging bridges where we got to see different parts of the jungle. Nancy was also a very creative photographer and took some really great and unique pictures of us!
+ We would have stayed around the lodge longer to explore other areas and keep searching for wildlife, but we had to catch the first shuttle back to town to make sure we had time to eat lunch and be ready for our next shuttle pick up to Monteverde!
+ Ate lunch at Rainforest Cafe. (No, not the tourist trap at Downtown Disney). Liz finished her meal with a delicious “Choco Vienna”. Expresso, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and crushed cocoa. YUMMMMM
+ Arrived back at Hotel Secreto JUST in time to catch our shuttle for the Jeep-Boat-Jeep (actually bus-ferry-bus) to Monteverde.
+ The first bus ride was unremarkable followed by an hour boat ride through the man made Lake Arenal- almost comparable to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala  (almost!) After we crossed the lake and boarded the next bus to Monteverde, the scenery changed completely!
+ Because we are traveling during the dry season, most of the countryside had been brown as we traveled each country. But here, on the outskirts of Monteverde, everything was covered in a lush green carpet!
+ So the 2 hour bus ride to the little town of Santa Elena was very pretty and our shuttle bus driver was very nice and would even stop to point out some of the cool different birds around.
+ When the bus pulled into town, we hopped off and checked into our hostel, called Pension Santa Elena. We had booked a private room for 2 people and they gave us a room with bunk beds. Despite it being relatively early (around 6), when we asked for a different room with a double bed, he said they were fully booked and there weren’t other options. I highly doubt everyone had checked in already and he couldn’t switch us, he just seemed like he wanted to dismiss the idea and didn’t care.
+ So we dropped our bags and went walking around town to check out different restaurants and speak with tour agencies. We got some info on different activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, canyoneering, hiking, etc. So many different options in this really cool area of the world!
+ We decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant right next to our hostel, Taco Taco. The burritos were relatively cheap (compared to other Costa Rican options) and big and yummy, so we were happy.
+ The rest of the evening we did work on our tablets and we had some of the Costa Rican craft beers they offered right there on site. Then we watched some Parks and Recreation on our tablet before bed.
+ This hostel was weird because they closed the common area and kitchen at 10, so everyone had to leave and go to their rooms. It was the first time we’d encountered this and found it very strange.

3/4
+ Hiking was on the agenda again today but this time we were visiting another famous place that had been on Corey’s bucket list for a long time, Monteverde Cloud Forest!
+ So we ate our free breakfast at our hostel, which actually came from the Mexican restaurant next door – Taco Taco. We then shared a taxi with other people from our hostel to Monteverde in time to meet our guide for the day.
+ We opted to pay extra for the guide since we were told that was the only way we’d be able to see the animals. That turned out to be true, but the only animals we saw were birds. We even got to see the famous Quetzal bird! 2 of them actually! This was special because they have to be in season to have a chance and even then sometimes people don’t see them. If you don’t know what they look like, look them up online because they’re very pretty and unique. We also saw a mot mot, 3 wattled bell bird, centipedes, and even got to hike along the continental divide which had some magnificent views!
+ After our 2.5 hour hike with the guide was over, we went to the Hummingbird garden on the property and got to watch a whole bunch of hummingbirds flying back and forth between the different feeders. Liz really loved that and took a ton of pictures. Plus you could get really close to the hummingbirds, within a foot!
+ We hadn’t done a whole lot of actual hiking with the guide since we would mainly look for birds, then once he found them he would set up a telescope, we’d all look and then take pictures through the telescope. Because of that we didn’t cover a lot of ground in the forest. So we decided to go back into the forest and explore some of the other trails. It was really nice and peaceful and although we didn’t see any sloths or monkeys, the cloud forest and all of the different old growth plants and trees it contained was still awesome and different from anything else we had ever seen.
+ At 2 pm (6.5 hours after we got there), we finally caught the bus back into town and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Tico Rico. Except instead of getting typical food again like so many meals previously, we chose to get hamburgers instead. Not as delicious as they are at home but still really good and filling.
+ Since we didn’t like our room (or the staff and weird rules) at Pension, we looked around online for a different place to stay for the next 2-3 nights and found a good place nearby called Moon House. We walked over and talked to the owner, checked out the room, and decided we liked it so we booked it. The owner, Francisco, also gave us the best prices for our excursions so we ended up booking all of those through him as well.
+ We then spent the next few hours hanging out at Pension and uploading pictures before splitting a burrito from Taco Taco for dinner.
+ Tonight it was time for another guided hike. This time through the jungle at night to look for nocturnal animals, different from what we could see during the day. We had heard great reviews from people about all the different animals they saw, but read some online reviews that made us wary. We decided to try it anyway but our worries ended up being justified as it was basically a glorified staged hike in someone’s backyard. The guides obviously knew just where every single animal would be residing because not only did they do the tour just a couple hours earlier, but the animals are there everyday. So the 10 people in our group tromped along behind the guide as he “found” different animals like sleeping toucans (maybe real? They didn’t move even with 11 flashlights on them), a Tarantula, snakes, and other types of birds. We however did not get to see the one animal we had most hoped for: A sloth. That was the 1 thing that sold us on the tour is that every person from our hostel that had taken the tour saw at least 1 sloth. Of course our recent string of bad luck stuck with us and despite the guide seeing multiple sloths on the 5:30 tour, we didn’t find a single one on our 8 pm tour. So not only were the animals basically staged, but we still couldn’t find them! Disappointed that  we wasted $40, we went back to the hostel.
+ We were determined to end the night on a high note so we decided to go grab a drink at a cool bar we had heard about. Turns out they wanted a $4 cover charge because it was Friday night and we decided that it definitely wasn’t worth wasting any more money than we just had so we went to our next choice only to discover they had closed 2 minutes earlier. Whaddaya know! So we instead just went back to our room and watched some Parks and Rec on our tablet before sleep.
+ Not our favorite end to the day, but at times like these we have to remember we are blessed to even be here!

Click here for more photos of Costa Rica!

Nicaragua & Costa Rica: 2/20-2/26

Granada >>> Isla de Ometepe >>> San Juan del Sur >>> Tamarindo

2/20
+ Woke up at the Treehouse Hostel to howler monkeys in the morning (and all throughout the night). If you don’t know what they sound like, look it up online. They’re impressively loud for their size.
+ Walked back up the hill to the bar portion of the hostel to check out. Glad to see many of our hostelmates were still alive, although many had no memory of their actions the previous 12+ hours (It was THAT insane last night).
+ Seemingly everyone was ready to leave on the free 11 am shuttle so about 15-20 of us crammed into the pickup truck and truck bed back to Granada. Since we skipped breakfast and wanted fuel for our upcoming travels, we got lunch with Jessie and Tanice and reminisced on the funny times from the night before.
+ After saying our goodbyes, we trekked to the bus station (through another crazy market) and eventually caught the bus to Rivas for connections on to Isle de Ometepe.
+ After a bus, taxi and a very complicated ferry ride (We watched as they loaded a huge semi carrying telephone poles onto the deck of a ferry. Not our ferry thankfully!) We made it to Ometepe!
+ Walked to our hostel as the sun was setting and checked in.
+ Caught our breath for a minute from our long travels all day, then walked back into town to grab dinner.
+ Back at the hostel, Liz passed out immediately while Corey researched on the tablet.

2/21
+ Originally the plan was to spend the day exploring the island, but we instead opted to spend it lounging in hammocks (our new favorite pastime) researching for our next city.
+ From our hammocks, 2 large blue and white birds flew over us. These large birds were so different than any other bird we had seen! They had these little plumes on their heads that made them look like some type of cartoon. Almost like a Pokemon! (Over the next few days we discovered these birds are called  Urraca (blue-tailed magpie) and are actually plentiful on Ometepe)
+ Not wanting to walk into town for lunch, we instead stayed at our hostel and depleted our snack reserves.
+ We did eventually head into town for dinner and went to a much cheaper, tipico style food place we had noticed the night before.
+ We also swung into a grocery store and replenished our snack supply (a must have on travels!)
+ Before sleep we watched the movie “Joy”, and prepared our bag to explore the island the next day.

2/22
+ After breakfast at our hostel, we hiked into town and rented a scooter/moped from a store run by 2 sisters.
+ The island is 2 big round volcanoes connected by a thinner isthmus. It looks almost like a pair of goggles from the air. We were on the far left end, but drove almost all around the island throughout the day! (Everywhere we could that there were paved roads)
+ We enjoyed great views both of the volcanoes and the local cities, houses, and shops.
+ Volcano Concepción is an almost prefect cone shape with clouds consistently swirling around the top. It almost looks like something out of a cartoon! Or like a vanilla ice cream scoop with chocolate on top, except the colors are reversed.
+ Volcano Maderas also has a cloudy top, but it is not nearly as perfectly cone shaped.
+ Because both volcano hikes end in the middle of the clouds with no views, we opted not to spend the money (or 8-10 hours of time) to hike them.
+ While driving we did see a troupe of Capuchin monkeys playing and eating on the roadside. So we pulled over and watched them for a bit (while making sure our phone and camera did not become their new play toy).
+ We also stopped to hike and explore a nature reserve called Chaco Verde, which had nice views of the lake and lagoon.
+ Another popular spot we stopped at was a beach called Playa Domingo. It was a nice beach and did not feel like we were on a lake at all, with the waves and sand. We got some smoothies and took in the sights for a bit before continuing on.
+ Our last stop on the island tour was a place called Ojo de Agua. While it was a nice shaded spot to swim and cool off from a natural spring, it was really just a big glorified swimming pool. We still enjoyed ourselves though and watched as people attempted a slack line above the water (and we even tried a couple times ourselves, with no success).
+ After we left there, we were headed back to our town, which was about an hour away. Around 30 minutes into our drive, the sun set and it got dark. Unfortunately, the scooter we rented did not have a right headlight and we were half blind while driving down the dark roads through unfamiliar territory.
+ After about 15 minutes of no problems (and all day driving it fine), all of the sudden about half of the road/concrete was missing on the right side of the road. Before we even saw that or knew what had happened, our bike fell over on the left side and we both skidded along the pavement for a little bit before stopping. Luckily, we were only going about 15/20 kph when it happened (not the 40-50 kph we were in the daylight) otherwise the injuries would have been much worse. Corey got the worst of it since he was in front, with most of his whole left side scraped badly, but Liz had a couple injuries too.
+ It happened in front of a couple shops and a number of people ran over to help us since they saw the accident (and pointed out how the road was messed up there, which we would have seen if we had a right headlight!)
+ Angry at the fact the scooter defect caused our crash and hurting from our numerous injuries, we gathered ourselves and counted injuries. Luckily the bike still worked (although it was scratched up too) and we continued the drive back to our hostel, hopeful that the rest of our journey involved no more spills.
+ Back at the hostel we showered and spent a good 40 minutes tending to and dressing our wounds.
+ We decided against riding the scooter back into town for dinner and instead walked. We went to the street food cart of a person we had met the previous day and got delicious Salvadorian food for cheap. (Turns out our friend was an El Salvadorian who used to live in the US.)
+ Walked back to the hostel and got ready for the next day while contemplating our conversation with the scooter company the next day.

2/23
+ Ate breakfast at the hostel.
+ Got our laundry we had turned in earlier and packed our bags and checked out.
+ Drove the scooter back to the agency and proceeded to have a not so fun argument/conversation with the workers. We approached the situation very calmly, recognizing both sides of the situation. While we were responsible for the vehicle when it crashed, we also acknowledged that the cause of the crash was entirely due to the defect of their rental product (causing us not to be able to see the road). If this had happened in the U.S. with a rental company, there would normally be lawsuits threatened against the company and demands for not only all money returned, but also the payment for injuries, etc. Unfortunately, this is not the U.S. It’s Nicaragua. So between pretending to not speak English well when it was convenient, the guy at the rental shop was very demeaning and dismissive. After explaining how we couldn’t see the right side of the road with the right headlight out, he proceeded to turn on the headlight in the shop, in broad daylight, and claim he could see everything just fine. What a joke! Of course in broad daylight you can see everything. We might as well inform all the car companies that they only need to make cars with 1 headlight on the side, since it has zero effect on the driving, according to him.
+ After almost an hour of circular arguing (and Corey managing to not punch the smug man in the face for his belittling comments and insults) we settled on them keeping our $100 deposit and paying an extra $5 (on top of our $30 rental). We were both very upset and felt like we maybe should have been much angrier and not reasonable (though in a foreign country, where people can buy off police, that’s never a good idea).
+ Still upset but happy to be done with the situation, we walked back to our hostel, gathered our bags, and then boarded the first ferry off the island. Eager to leave that situation behind us, and happy it was not worse physically or financially, we counted our blessings and put our focus to enjoying our upcoming travels.
+ Back on the mainland, we broke one of our travel rules and paid probably triple the price to make our journey to San Juan Del Sur much quicker and more convenient (as opposed to chicken buses). This was partially because we were so drained from the scooter debacle, and partially because our injuries (particularly Corey’s) left us a bit handicapped and wary of trying to get on/off chicken buses quickly.
+ Thankfully our taxi driver was very nice and took us all the way to our hostel, so we didn’t need to lug our bags very far. We checked in to Casa de Olas and were happy to be greeted by much friendlier people than our previous hostel.
+ Although we were in a party hostel, all of the crazy people from the weekend had checked out that morning. So we were given our own private dorm room, which was really nice.
+ We then caught the free shuttle into the actual town of San Juan Del Sur (we were staying way up a hill about 10 km outside of town). During the 2 hours we had before the return shuttle we grabbed lunch, checked out different tour/bus companies,  had some happy hour drinks overlooking the cove, and explored the town.
+ Rode the shuttle back and spent the next couple hours socializing, playing a new drinking game the Aussie’s call Downers, and eating a family style dinner of chicken curry.
+ Apparently Tuesday nights also have a pub crawl and nearly everyone was heading out. We would normally have gone with, but since we had just spent so much money on the scooter, we decided to be lame and hang out at the hostel instead. So the evening was spent browsing Facebook, Instagram, and enjoying the silence of what was now basically our own private beach resort.

2/24
+ Woke up to find Corey’s toiletry bag halfway through our window leading to the monkey enclosure, with all of the contents missing. We reasoned that the monkey must have reached his arm through the fence, in between the partially open slats and grabbed the toiletry bag from Corey’s backpack! We quickly surveyed the monkey enclosure and sure enough, stuff was scattered all throughout their messy playground. We spoke to the staff who escorted us to the gate and then he went in and recovered as many of Corey’s toiletries as possible. In the end, we got back about 1/3 of our stuff, and didn’t lose anything of great value that couldn’t be replaced.
+ We then ate our free pancake breakfast at the hostel and caught their free shuttle 10 minutes down the mountain and into town.
+ From there, we booked another shuttle to Maderas beach, where we happened to hang out with Emilie and Julia again-  two Canadian girls we have been running into multiple times in different cities on our travels.
+ We also ventured off up the beach to explore the jutting rocks, tide pools, and nice tranquil coves. The water in this area was super clear and made for great swimming. We would have loved to stay longer and enjoy the sights, but we had to catch our shuttle back to town.
+ After the 30 minute ride back south, we enjoyed a cerveza while watching sunset over an almost too perfect picturesque setting of little sailboats and houseboats in the cove, surrounded by cliffs. Although we’ve never been huge sunset enthusiasts, even we can’t stop ourselves from snapping way too many photos of the beautiful orange, purple and pink skies as the sun fades away.
+ When the hoards of people on the beach taking photos finally dispersed, we took it as our cue to leave as well and set off for our next stop for the night, a brewery!
+ As we mentioned in Honduras, finding good beer in Central America has been a tough undertaking. When we do finally stumble upon a brewery with delicious craft brews, it’s nearly impossible (and would be downright wrong) not to sample them all … multiple times.
+ So after we finished with our flights of their 3 different homemade beers, we went across the street to a good (an,d cheap) seafood restaurant that was recommended. Our referral source was spot on and we split a delicious seafood dinner, comprised of about 5 different types of seafood in a big paella-like mixture.
+ We caught the last shuttle back to our hostel at 8 and then spent the evening hanging out around the pool watching drunken debauchery from some of the Australian Amigos in town for their last night. The hostel had a policy where if you accidentally bumped into and knocked over the giant Jenga tower, you had to run around the pool naked. Let’s just say it happened often enough to question if they were all still accidents. Luckily, we kept our distance and made it to bed unscathed.

2/25
+ Today marks 2 months of travel!!! It’s hard to believe how fast time has gone by, and how many things we’ve done/places we’ve been to. We were nearing the end of our time in our 5th country, Nicaragua but had 1 more full day for exploring.
+ Hermosa beach was our destination for the day, about 30 minutes south and known for big beaches and lots of Surfing.
+ After 2 more shuttle rides, we arrived just in time to snatch up the last available hammock. The views were great and luckily we had a very strong ocean breeze to combat the oppressing heat. We didn’t laze around for too long though because we wanted to go exploring the tide pools while it was still low tide.
+ So we at off on foot again and for about 2 hours we wandered around on the perilous cliffs and rocky outcroppings. It was very similar to the coast of California with the huge waves crashing against the cliffs and various coves, just far less abundant sea life. We still managed to find a few different sea creatures before hunger drove us back towards the restaurant area. Unfortunately on our trek through a shrubbery area, Liz had her second bout of “I love to put my hand on a cactus” fever. So as her left hand was still recovering from the scooter induced road rash, her right hand’s jealousy led to Liz picking out about 20-30 little cactus needles from the folds of her fingers.
+ Lunch was surprisingly filling and afterwards we spent the rest of our beach excursion lounging in hammocks reading travel guides and watching surfers successfully (and some unsuccessfully) catch some gnarly waves.
+ There was another gorgeous sunset right over one of the huge rocks jutting out of the ocean and we managed to see it through just long enough before hopping on our return shuttle back into town.
+ We had 2 hours to kill (or so we thought) until our hostel shuttle came so we grabbed dinner at a cheap roadside Mexican restaurant, then stopped by the Brewery again for a blues fest they were having. We had heard they would have some different beers on tap, but we were forced to drink the same delicious ones from the night before. Darn.
+ The 8 pm shuttle that was supposed to pick us up never came. After 30 minutes of standing around waiting, we ducked into a different hostel to await the next shuttle at 10pm that headed right next door to our place. While we waited, we researched for our border crossing into Costa Rica the next day.
+ After finally arriving back at our hostel, we spent our last night there hanging out with people, swimming in the pool, and preparing for tomorrow’s travels. Luckily, we somehow still had the whole 6 person dorm room to ourselves this whole time!

2/26
+ In the morning after breakfast we booked flight tickets out of Costa Rica since they require you to show onward transportation when entering through customs.
+ We said goodbye at the hostel and then walked down the hill to the main road to wait for the chicken bus from San Juan Del Sur to Rivas, where we would catch a different bus to the border.
+ After standing around for a while with no luck, we finally agreed on a good price with a taxi driver to the border, skipping the backtracking to Rivas and saving some time. He was nice and gave us some helpful tips and info for Costa Rica. We’re really happy we took Spanish Lessons in Guatemala otherwise we wouldn’t be able to communicate well in these types of situations!
+ The border crossing was rather seamless and relatively quick, compared to other crossings we had done. We even got a good exchange rate from the Nicaraguan Cordobas to the Costa Rican Colones. Which is good, because we had been repeatedly warned by many other travelers how expensive Costa Rica is compared to other surrounding countries, so we would need every penny we could get!
+ We immediately caught a bus to Liberia, where we would catch another bus to our destination for the next few days, Playa Tamarindo. This place was recommended by Liz’s relatives so we were excited to visit some of the same places they had been.
+ Corey was particularly excited about Costa Rica, as it had been near the top of his bucket list for many years! Plus he read so much about the country in the guide books, he was anxious to do all the exciting adventures Costa Rica offers!
+ After arriving in the Liberia bus station we got our next ticket, but unfortunately the bus wasn’t leaving for 90 minutes so we plopped down in a bus station cafe and did more reading until it was time to undergo what was to be our most interesting chicken bus ride yet.
+ We sat in the back row bench this time to keep an eye on our bags, even though we knew it would be a bumpier ride. Although the ride was only about 2 hours, we had some very interesting characters sit next to us. The first was a drunk girl in her 20’s who was very friendly and even spoke decent English, but was very hard to understand due to the slurred words and erratic train of thought. The second was a large sweaty man in his 40’s who at first seemed angry and standoff-ish, but then also started talking to us about who knows what. We both tried our best to communicate in Spanish or English with him, but we were never sure exactly what he was saying. It turned into a 20 minute game of charades while we covered topics ranging from snow, Santa and chimneys, him maybe or maybe not liking various states (we’re not sure which) and smiling a lot. Or none of those are correct and we were as confused as we looked.
+ This “chicken bus” was different than most because instead of going on the most direct path to it’s destination (but still stopping frequently to pick up people) it turned on a bunch of side roads, and in and out of neighborhoods. So it took twice as long as it should have. We asked someone if this bus was indeed headed to Tamarindo and they just responded “Yes. Pura Vida” (Meaning relax and go with the flow).
+ After finally making it to the end of the bus line, we walked through town to Pura Vida hostel and checked into the last 2 dorm beds.
+ We quickly befriended a Canadian guy who had been staying in Tamarindo for about 10 days already and loved it. He gave us some tips and pointers about the area and then walked us about halfway towards a dinner spot he recommended before we parted ways. Liz was craving some southern style BBQ and she was in luck because Tamarindo was the most touristy place we’d been since we started in Cancun, so they had tons of American style restaurants and shops (at American prices) and huge resorts too. So we easily found a BBQ restaurant and indulged our nostalgic taste buds.
+ After dinner we walked around exploring the city and found another brewery! (One of the perks of the American influence in the city. ) We sampled some of the craft beers they had on tap, but chose to move along due to the small cups you got and the poor service. But the beer was good!
+ On our walk back to our hostel, we happened to see a giant movie projector screen on the top of a tall hotel showing the most recent Star Wars movie! We were both excited to watch it again so we hurriedly found our way to the top, only to catch the last 5 minutes or so. Although we were disappointed, they were about to start their second movie which was “The Revenant” so Corey talked Liz into staying and watching. We ended up being the only ones up there the whole time so it was like our own private rooftop theater! Complete with a cool ocean breeze and a cold beer. We were happy we were there for their weekly movie night.
+ Afterwards we went back to the hostel and quietly snuck into our dorm rooms, as usual being the last ones awake.

 

Click here for more photos of Nicaragua and photos of Costa Rica!

Nicaragua: 2/13-2/19

Leon >>> Poneloya >>> Las Penitas >>> Granada >>> Laguna de Apoyo >>> Granada

2/13
+ Had to get up early for our Volcano Boarding excursion on Cerro Negro.
+ Our hostel, Tortuga Booluda, provides fee pancake batter for guests to cook their own pancakes. Liz lit a gas stove for the first time and cooked pancakes for us!
+ We walked to Quetzaltrekkers and met up with our group. Rode in the back of some sort of Army jeep for about 45 minutes out to the Volcano. On the way out, another Volcano nearby called Telica actually erupted right in front of us! We didn’t get to see any lava, but still watched huge clouds of smoke and ash bellow into the sky, which was pretty cool.
+ On our shuttle, we met some nice people from the states (NC, and CA) and a nice Swedish girl, Rebekah, who was actually staying at our hostel!
+ Our trek to the top of the Cerro Negro volcano took about 45 minutes and we got to view the crater and a few sulfur steam vents with all of the yellow stained rocks around them. The higher we got, the more windy it got. This made for some treacherous trekking with the boards strapped to our backs between our backpacks. (We each looked like Buzz Lightyear with the boards strapped to our backs) At times we felt like we were almost blown off the mountain with the 50+ mph winds.
+ It was finally time to go Volcano Boarding! After putting on our full body suits, safety glasses, gloves, and bandanas, almost every inch of our body was covered and we were ready.
+ They say opposites attract, and never have Liz and I had such opposite experiences as we did going down the mountain. Since you have the ability to control how fast you go (based on how much you use your feet to slow and stop yourself), it’s up to each person what level of daredevil they want to achieve. Liz set the record that day for slowest descent, seemingly slow enough to admire each rock and viewpoint along the way. Corey nearly broke the sound barrier and his rocket sled trip ended at the bottom after about 30 seconds, leaving a trail of dust and an avalanche of rocks tumbling down behind him.
+ Both of us had a lot of fun though and luckily our tour company was the only one to allow us to go down twice! So back up the mountain we went (although this time half the group opted to stay behind, content with only the 1 risky thrill ride). The hike up was even more windy this time, but we made it up faster with the smaller group. Our second rides down, Corey went even faster, clocking in around 77 kilometers per hour, and Liz may have gone even slower (but was still the prettiest and most graceful Volcano Border in all of Nicaragua!).
+ Afterwards we met up with the rest of our group and had a delicious lunch of soft tacos with a new fancy ingredient: refried bean paste! Despite the name (and look), it was actually really good and everyone at the table stuffed themselves.
+ The ride back to the hostel was fun and we were all good friends by the time we arrived back in León. Dirty, hot and sweaty we all said our goodbyes and raced back to our hostels to take showers and get the countless black rocks out of our hair, ears, noses and other various crevices.
+ After our showers, we stayed confined to sweat in our hostel and escape the sun for the remaining few hours of daylight.
+ In the evening we went out again and after a quick stop to buy shirts from our Volcano boarding experience, we headed down to get ice cream at a place we had been recommended to visit called “Kiss Me”. Although the ice cream was very good, we paid more than we normally do for dinner for 2 here.
+ While strolling through the city afterwards, we found a celebration concert taking place in Central Park. They were celebrating the 100 year anniversary of some famous freedom poet  (we think?) and there were various dancing and singing groups that performed. We stayed for about 90 minutes and alternated between watching the concert, the nearby wedding taking place at the huge cathedral, and just watching all the different types of people walk through the park.
+ We had heard about a delicious pizza place we needed to visit so we headed there for dinner. The place had funny drawings on the wall, but the food (and service) was a bit disappointing.
+ On the walk back to our hostel, we passed a bunch of crazy clubs and bars that rivaled Downtown Orlando!
+ The rest of the evening was spent lounging in hammocks at the hostel and planning our next few travel moves.

2/14
+ We slept in a little at our hostel and woke up just in time to have the last few pancakes.
+ It was time to head back to the Pacific Coast, our first time there since we were in Guatemala. We were going to a secluded backpacking lodge on the beach called the Surfing Turtle that was only about 45 minutes southwest of León.
+ The shuttle to the Poneloya beach was leaving from a different hostel so we packed up our stuff and walked over there in time to catch the bus with about 8 other backpackers.
+ When our shuttle bus went as far as it could, we had to then strap on our bags and walk a couple hundred yards through soggy sand (it was low tide so no boats or cars would work). We eventually reached a deep enough part that had a little river to cross so we paid a dollar, and boarded a boat for all of 30 seconds to go about 30 feet to the other side. Then it was another 15 minutes of walking to the actual hostel. There was supposed to be a free horse and carriage to pick us up and take us, but as usual in Central America, things are not always as advertised.
+ Covered in sweat from the almost nauseating heat, we checked into our dorm room and ordered lunch.
+ The last thing you want to do when you’re hungry, hot and tired is wait forever for your lunch. But that’s exactly what happened as we watched seemingly every other person in the hostel get there food as we sat there for over 2 hours waiting! We finally complained (for the 2nd time) and magically less than 5 minutes later we got our food. We assume they had lost our ticket. This experience, combined with some surly staff members, was not a very good start to our experience here.
+ After we finished our small and tasteless burgers from their overpriced menu, we could finally do what we came here to do and relax at the beach!
+ We relaxed in the hammocks and read the guidebooks for the upcoming countries.
+ The hostel was hosting a “speed dating” activity to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We did not participate but had fun asking each other the silly questions the organizer had selected.
+ After the speed dating the main bar closed and the beach bar opened up with a bonfire. Everyone moved down closer to the water to continue hanging out.
+ The surfing turtle is the only thing on this section of beach as it becomes an island with low tide. With almost zero light pollution, we could see the clearest night sky we had ever seen! So many stars! We felt like we could even see the Milky Way!
+ Went to bed in our 16 bed dorm on the 2nd floor of a thatched roof hut. We made sure to book this dorm specifically as we had heard great things from other travelers. The dorm was completely open air. (2 walls were only screens) this meant we had great ventilation and beautiful views to wake up to!
+ Corey’s bed was a top bunk closest to the screen. He definitely enjoyed his sleep that night!

2/15
+ Woke up to the beautiful view and packed up our bags since we were checking out today.
+ Ordered breakfast of pancakes and fruit. Liz says they were the best pancakes she has ever had!
+ All of our accomodations in Nicaragua have offered free organic coffee throughout the day but it’s been SO HOT everywhere that Liz had not even taken advantage of this!
+ Hung out at the beach for most of the day. Corey played KanJam (a frisbee game) with some Canadian guys and finally got to use his football he won from Miller Lite back in Honduras.
+ After a small lunch, we headed back into town to our next hostel. We eventually caught the local bus and rode it a short ride to the other side of the beach called Las Penitas.
+ We checked in to Barco de Oro and were greeted with free juice, friendly staff, and mermaid wall art! This hotel was not right near the waves but was actually right along the tidal flats.
+ We walked down the beach a bit to watch sunset and the waves splashing over the large rocks.
+ Back at Barco de Oro we ate dinner (another delicious and cheap jalapeño steak!) and planned out our next moves.

2/16
+ Corey decided to skip surfing lessons for now and wait for better waves.
+ Ate lunch at a nearby hotspot called the Lazy Turtle and had a lazy day researching how to get to Granada and where to stay once we arrived.
+ Caught the local bus back into Leon. This bus was much more crowded than the previous day and stopped on the far west side of Leon. Hired a taxi to take us directly to the bus station for Managua.
+ Rode in small minivan to Managua then on to Granada on the city bus. All for less than $3/pp!
+ Arrived in Granada around 9 pm. Had trouble finding our hostel because Google and Tripadvisor both showed incorrect addresses. After walking about 12 blocks with all of our gear, we finally stopped into Oasis Hostel  (not our original choice) and booked 2 nights. Oasis had tons of signs advising not to walk around the city at night.  Woops! We were glad we didn’t have any problems.
+ Got dinner at a tipico restaurant for really cheap and watched street performers.
+ Walked back to the hostel, set the fan on full blast, and tried to fall asleep as quickly as possible to escape the heat.

2/17
+ Spent most of the day lazing about in the hammocks and using the free computers to do research for upcoming travel and tried our best to stay cool.
+ Left the hostel in the afternoon and saw a long line of people waiting for something a few doors down from the hostel. Eventually a door opened and the waiting adults poured into the building. One by one each person  reimerged toting a little kid. It was the pickup line for elementary school! Most parents rode away on their bikes with the kid sitting sidesaddle on the bike frame. It was quite a sight with the bikes riding every which way on the sidewalk and down the middle of the road.
+ Talked to a few tour companies about activites for the next few days.
+ Ate dinner at Toritos and decided to take advantage of the promotion they were running for a good deal on a nice room. We made a reservation for a room for the next night with AC! Woohoo! What a luxury!

2/18
+ After another free breakfast of AYCE pancakes, we checked out of Oasis and moved our bags across town to Toritos.
+ Took the shuttle to Laguna de Apoyo and stayed the day at Paradiso Hostel.
+ It was so windy the lake was more like an ocean with waves! The cooler weather was a great escape from the Granada heat.
+ We spent a while lounging in hammocks, reading our travel guides, and sipping on a licuado.
+ Then we headed down to the beach (lake) where Corey got some use out of his football and threw around with some french Canadians for a bit while Liz floated in a tube on the lake.
+ Returned to Granada and headed back over to Toritos to shower and enjoy our AC!
+ Ate some disappointing pizza for dinner at a place that was popular, but not very well organized.
+ Met Rebekah (from volcano boarding) and her hostel mates for a drink.
+ Went back to Toritos and watched some spanish TV before bed. Corey really likes watching movies he’s already seen in Spanish and trying to figure out what they’re saying.

2/19
+ After breakfast we took a walk down to the coast of Lake Nicaragua. This is the largest lake in Central America! It was obvious the city had done some beautification of this area but unfortunately it was still not a great part of town.
+ On the walk back, we unknowingly walked under someone actively painting the ceiling of an overhang. Liz got a big drop of paint on her lip and quickly realized what was going on! We ran past the building and escaped with only a few drops on our clothes (including 1 big one right on Corey’s crotch area, so that will surely look weird every time he wears that shirt in the future).
+ Wanting to work out some kinks we had developed from these hard dorm beds, we decided to try a unique experience we had read about online. It was a place called the  Seeing Hands Blind Massage. This business offers cheap massages and a source of employment for the local blind residents of Granada. We each got a 40 min massage for $11 each!
+ Ate a quick lunch of leftover pizza and then caught the free shuttle to the Treehouse hostel.
+ Treehouse is exactly that! A treehouse built into the side of Mombacho Volcano about 30 minutes outside of Granada. A suspension bridge, lots of hammocks and thatched roofs and also a lot of climbing up and down the side of the mountain for the bathroom and private rooms.
It is a cool setting being in the middle of the jungle with monkeys all around but the hostel itself was overpriced and not very well managed.
+ Ate a communal, family style dinner the hostel workers cooked that consisted of chicken and rice. Corey sweet talked one of the staffers and managed to sneak in some seconds!
+ The place was also known as a party hostel and since it was Friday night, and the treehouse was offering free shuttles from Granada every couple of hours, more and more people kept showing up. Eventually drunken craziness was beginning to surround us and we were starting to question if this place was for us.
+ Luckily, right when we were considering escaping to our room to watch a movie, we met 2 Canadian girls named Jessie and Tanice. They ended making the trip out there well worth it! We spent the whole night talking and people watching. The now crazy party combined with the motor skills needed to get around to each part the treehouse made for lots of excellent people watching. Occasionally people needed assistance back to their room/bed (who knows if it was their bed!?)
+ Around 2am the 4 of us decided it was bed time and made the 10 minute climb down the rocky path to the rooms in the dark. Fell asleep listening to the crazy party still going on.
+ Liz woke up once or twice at night and early morning to the sounds of howler monkeys outside our room, but luckily they haven’t evolved enough to pick locks so we were safe inside our room and mosquito net.

Click here for more photos from Nicaragua!

Guatemala: 1/22 – 1/28

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San Pedro (Lake Atitlan) >>> Antigua >>> Monterrico >>> Antigua

 

1/22
+ Woke up and had breakfast for the last time with our family. Some sort of weird hot oatmeal and milk soup thing that wasn’t good, but wasn’t bad, just a little weird.
+ Went to our last day of Spanish class and the school had a graduation ceremony for all of the students who were finishing their last day. Both of our maestras introduced us and we both spoke to everyone in Español about our experience in San Pedro.
+ We definitely made major progress with our Spanish abilities, especially Liz who started at almost zero. We are able to carry on conversations with our teachers for 20+ minutes at a time, entirely in Spanish! (Although we each make many many grammar conjugation mistakes) However, we know that outside the school people speak much faster and less clearly so we still tend to struggle to understand everything at times.
+ After class we gave our teachers their presents (little zip up clutch purses from a local tienda), took pictures and said goodbye to our school.
+ After eating 1 last time with our family, we packed up our stuff and moved out of the room/house. We said goodbye to the family members that were there, but most were gone so we promised to return the next day for a photo.
+ We then bought tickets for the boat to another nearby pueblo called Santiago to explore for the afternoon. While waiting for the boat we got some delicious licuados from a restaurant that the son in the family we stayed with manages, and talked with him for a while.
+ On the boat ride to Santiago, the water was pretty rough with lots of splashing into the boat so lots of people were wet by the time we arrived. Luckily it was hot and sunny outside so no big deal.
+ The town of Santiago was a bit disappointing with not much to do, so we just walked the streets for most of the time. We did however watch a large group of teens and guys playing some sort of soccer game with a mini sized ball where the object was not to get the ball in the net, but to hit the pole of the basketball hoop (they were playing on a basketball court). That was really interesting and entertaining.
+ On the way back to the boat, we stopped into a nice looking little cafe to get Liz a nutella cappuccino (and secretly needed a place to use the restroom). The barista was very friendly and also very talented at making drawings with the foam. He made Liz a cute bear that said “Love You”. Afterwards, he offered to let us make a drawing, but we declined the embarrassment that would have ensued to watch him make another one instead. Really cool! (Especially to Corey since he’s never in a Coffee shop)
+ The boat ride back was really intense with lots of major rocking and we were praying we wouldn’t capsize in our tiny boat the whole time (especially since it was very dark). Luckily, the boat captain took precautions and put up a bunch of tarps this time to block all the splashing.
+ Finally back on land safely, we checked into a new hostel we would be staying at for 2 nights on the other side of town (near all of the tourist shops and restaurants instead of the residential area we had been in).
+ Our hostel was called Mr. Mullets and is known as a party hostel, so we opted for a private room instead of a dorm so we could escape the madness when necessary.
+ Although quite a long day already, we wanted to celebrate the completion of our Spanish school, so we headed down the street to another hostel that was having it’s weekly trivia night (same as last week – Hostel Fe).
+ Luckily, we ran into James and Jonathan from our Homestay at trivia and we all teamed up again for the game. We tied with 2 other teams for 1st so to determine the winner, there was a chugging contest with 1 person from each team. James went up, but unfortunately didn’t win so we finished 3rd but were happy with our prize of 5 free tequila shots.
+ After many cervezas and Tequila there, we headed to another hot spot called Sublime. A really cool place situated right on the lake, the place was half filled with hippies vegging out and smoking weed and the other half with people dancing and drinking the night away. We situated ourselves in the middle at a campfire and talked to people.
+ We ended up meeting another guy who went to FSU the same time we did and talked about travel plans.
+ After some time we finally called it a night and luckily only had to walk a little bit back to our hostel instead of all the way across town again to the homestay.

1/23
+ Woke up with Corey feeling a little sick, but since it was our last full day in San Pedro, we wanted to make the most of it.
+ In the hostel garden we had our free breakfast of chocolate pancakes for Corey and an English muffin with eggs and fruit for Liz. Not half bad for a free hostel breakfast!
+ Afterwards we caught a boat to go to Panajachel for the day, another town across the lake. Panajachel is the biggest and most touristy of all the towns around the lake, but we were not interested in shopping the local street market stalls.
+ We quickly caught a taxi to the main attraction of the city, Reserva Natural. It is a big animal reserve with lots of cool zip lining through the jungle and over the lake!
+ Corey opted to do the most extreme zip lining option, while Liz was content with walking through the pretty gardens and looking at the various waterfalls.
+ After getting the harnesses on the whole group, we all walked up the mountain for about 30 minutes to the launch point of the first zip line. Along the way, we stopped to observe a bunch of Coatimundi and Spider Monkeys playing and eating bananas!
+ At the top, Liz said goodbye as Corey and the group began their zip line adventure. She spent the next couple hours hiking, taking pictures, observing the animals and talking with a nice Kentucky family she met.
+ Corey did a total of 8 different zip lines, ranging from a few hundred feet, to over 2000 feet on some of them! Amazing views while gliding over the lake of all the mountains, volcanoes, and the city!
+ At the end of the tour, we met up as Liz watched Corey (and the rest of the group) struggle through the little ropes course at the end of the tour.
+ We then headed straight for the butterfly garden which was very pretty with tons of different butterflies!
+ Next we hiked to the park’s private beach which was really pretty and had a lot of really cool looking, giant gnarly trees seemingly holding back the massive rocks from tumbling into the water!
+ Afterwards we decided to take 1 last look at the Coatimundi and monkeys and were delighted to find them much more friendly and abundant than earlier in the afternoon! They walked all around us (and some almost tried to climb on us!) and we took a bunch of photos and videos for a while until we said our goodbyes.
+ With no taxi or tuk tuks around the reserve when we left, we walked half an hour back into town. Luckily, we had amazing views from the road/mountain side of the sunset and various boats cruising the picturesque lake.
+ In town, we grabbed some delicious street food, said “No, gracious” to about 500 different street vendors, then caught a boat back to San Pedro (much smoother ride this time thankfully!)
+ As promised to our host family, we made the trek back to that side of town and said proper goodbyes and took pictures with them. We really enjoyed our time with them and felt very sad to be leaving them and San Pedro, both of which we had come to love and feel comfortable with.
+ San Pedro is definitely our favorite city we have visited so far! We would definitely come back to visit 1 day, and can see why so many tourists either spend a few months here, or end up moving to permanently and becoming ex pats.
+ We ended the night just hanging out in our hostel and readying ourselves for our first travel day in nearly 2 weeks!

1/24
+ Woke up for our last half day in San Pedro. Had some delicious breakfast at our hostel and then checked out.
+ Walked over to hotel Mikaso to take pictures of the city and mountains
+ Hung out at a nice restaurant on the lake called “Lake House” where we sat in swinging chairs, did research on the Internet, and had pizza and green tea.
+ Before jumping on the bus to Antigua, Liz made one last stop at a smoothie bar and got a oreo+banana+Nutella smoothie. IT WAS SO GOOD!
+ Rode in the crammed shuttle bus to Antigua and found our hostel named “Terrace Hostel” after arriving.
+ Ate dinner at Monoloco  (crazy monkey) where they were showing the nfl playoff games (with lots of American fans there too!). Food was very westernized- huge portions and much more expensive than we were used to in San Pedro!

1/25
+ Walked around the city and took pictures of the famed old churches of Antigua.
+ Decided on lunch at a Indian place. Delicious and cheap!
+ Booked a tour to Monterrico for tomorrow with a nice local guide named Pablo.
+ Made our way back to our hostel for the 4pm bar crawl!
+ Made new friends and explored 4 or 5 other bars and hostels as one big group. Played a hybrid version of Beer Pong and Flip Cup at one bar, and a funny game remembering alternate names for numbers at another bar.
+ After we got back from the bar crawl, Corey and I ate gourmet burritos at El Burro down the street from our hostel.

1/26
+ Shuttle to Monterrico picked us up around 8.
+ We arrived at Monterrico around 10:30 and were both groggy from napping in the shuttle.
+ After declining multiple offers of tours from locals, we made our way to Tortuguerio Monterrico, an animal nature reserve close by.
+ One of the same guides was there again and showed us around the small animal sanctuary. Iguanas, caiman, fish, freshwater turtles, and one very sad looking sea turtle.
+ Corey released one baby turtle into the ocean! They said it was an olive ridley but it looked just like a loggerhead to me.
+ Afterwards, we walked back down the beach and found a cafe with hammocks right on the sand. We both ordered a licuado and relaxed in the hammocks.
+ The sand here is black! I believe it is from the multiple volcanos nearby.
+ The waves are very rough here with multiple undercurrents. Swimming is not advised but it’s very pretty! Much hotter here than any other city in Guatemala so far.
+ Often when the large waves swelled before the break, you could see multiple sting rays in them illuminated by the sun.
+ Corey braved the waves and swam for a bit and body surfed the biggest waves he’s ever been in!
+ Caught our shuttle back to Antigua, and this time we were the only passengers in the whole van! (Often, the shuttle companies completely pack the whole bus to maximize their profit for the trip, so this was a pleasant new experience for us.)
+ Ate dinner at a cheap, Mexican restaurant.
+ Got late night coffee and hot chocolate at rainbow cafe. We just missed some cool didgeridoo music!

1/27
+ Explored the huge markets with everything from arts and crafts, clothes and underwear and even pirated dvds!
+ In the market, we were casually looking for a place for lunch. A local woman noticed we may be interested and started strongly pulling Corey’s arm towards her little food stand. Then another local woman from across the walkway started pulling Corey’s other arm across towards her cafe! Liz turned around and noticed Corey was being aggressively pulled in different directions! To settle this ASAP we said ok ok and went with the first local woman to her family’s table. The food (chicken, rice, and coleslaw type salad) was delicious and cheap and we were happy to finish the meal in 1 piece.
+ We had initially entered the market to find a new bathing suit for Corey. After asking a few guys in the market, we kept being directed “just around this corner” repeatedly. We eventually found our way to a large supermarket outside the traditional market and realized this was where they had been directing us just in very fast spanish!
+ Bought a few snacks and a new bathing suit for Corey.
+ On the way back to the hostel, we stopped to satisfy Liz’s soda craving at the fanciest McDonald’s we had ever seen. There were lush gardens and a fountain, along with a very European McCafe area.
+ Guatemala is known for their coffee and chocolate. Antigua has a whole museum dedicated to chocolate! We decided to not purchase a chocolate workshop where you learn how to make your own chocolate bar. Instead, we tried many samples and then got some fondue with fresh fruit. Yum!
+ After much deliberation about our next destination,  we decided to skip El Salvador this trip and head to Honduras. We would have liked to visit both countries but transportation between them seemed more costly and more complicated. We decided to head directly for Copan, Honduras from Antigua.
+ Before leaving our hostel  for dinner, we realized the water seemed to be turned off. Not thinking much of it, we set off for dinner.
+ Antigua has tons and tons of restaurants and bars varying from pretty cheap (<$5 per person) to very expensive for the budget backpacker  (> $20 per person).
+ We finally decided on a small pizza place and found out the water was out here as well!
+ After asking the waitress and later our hostel owner, we were told that Antigua will periodically shut off the water with no warning and for who knows how long. We were warned it may be  1 hour or it may be 12!
+ Luckily the water came back after about 5 hours. I have never been so happy to hear the sound of flushing toilets!

1/28
+ We checked out the artisinal “handicrafts” area of the market. No great finds. Corey did find even more DragonBall Z merchandise! DragonBall Z seems to be for sale everywhere but yet we don’t see anyone actually wearing it.
+ On the walk back to the hostel, we passed by a shop that advertised “sodas de americano”. They had a small fridge with Dr. pepper, root beer, and other sodas we hadn’t seen since we left the US! (In case you are wondering: you can always find Pepsi, coke, grapette, orange soda, 7up, and sometimes mountain dew). Liz got the Dr. Pepper she had missed so much!
+ Decided to continue the American Tourist theme and picked up a pizza from Little Caesars. As in nearly every store or business that handles a decent amount of money, they have armed guards with various large guns (such as sawed off shot guns) standing watch inside and/or outside the store. We’re not sure how often they have to use them, but it is a formidable sight.
+ Ate a quick lunch at the hostel of Little Ceasars pizza and Dr. Pepper. (Today was obviously not our most authentic Guatemalan day).
+ Caught our shuttle and rode the 1 hr ride to Pacaya volcano. Super curvy roads up the mountain.
+ Met our guide and hiked up to the base of the lava flow from the 2014 eruption of pacaya. Easy 1 hr hike.
+ No visible lava but awesome terrain and palpable heat from the geothermal energy! We were all able to roast marshmallows using the heat from underground!
+ Our guide showed us a rock that was pretty hot and handed it to us to hold. When it was Liz’s turn, the rock was much sharper and hotter than she was expecting so she accidently tossed the rock back at Corey! Corey had to jump out of the way. The guide thought this was hilarious.
+ After we explored the lava field, we hike back down to the base.
+ Corey and I talked with 2 girls from London on the hike down. Margot and Teresa. We gave them tips for visiting the Keys and they gave us tips on South America.
+ Back in Antigua, the power went off in the whole city for about 10min. Luckily it came right back on. Antigua is super dark without streetlights or anything!
+ Wandered around looking for a good dinner spot. Decided on Sky Bar Cafe. We had the whole 3rd floor to ourselves overlooking the city for dinner.
+ Stopped in to Cafe No Se for a nightcap before heading back to the hostel to shower and pack for our 4am shuttle to Copan, Honduras.

Click here for more of our pictures from Guatemala!

Guatemala: 1/8- 1/14

Semuc Champey >>> Xela >>> San Pedro La Laguna (on Lake Atitlan)

1/8
+ We were concerned we had missed our 8am shuttle to Semuc Champey when it had not arrived by 8:25. We are slowly realizing that Guatemala seems to run on “island time”… despite not being an island.
+ The 8hr ride to Semuc Champey turned into closer to 10 hrs with the multiple stops at convenience stores for bathroom/snacks as well as a stop for a flat tire!
+ When the shuttle stopped in the small town of Lanquin, (keep in mind, it is already dark now) we were met by teenagers yelling out each hostel name and the glamorous  amenities each offered. (I.e. “a bed!” “Water: hot and cold!”, etc)
+ A little bewildered, we found the teen shouting Casa Zapote ( the hostel reservations included in our Semuc Champey package). Our bags were moved to the back of a pickup truck and we were directed to climb on in.
+ We took off in the back of the truck for a 25 min ride up the very dark, pot-holed, boulder-filled road.
+ Arrived at our hostel to find the beds were actually only box springs in a loft in the middle of the jungle. All in the name of Adventure, right?
+ Spent the evening eating, drinking and meeting other travelers  during the hostel happy hour.

1/9
+  Toured Semuc Champey with 1 other couple from Costa Rica. Our guide was named Manu. He looked and acted like he was 16. He thought it was hilarious to repeatedly yell “What up mannggg!”
+ Hiked up to El Mirador (the viewpoint) to get aerial view of pools. The river runs from the mountains feeding the pools from underneath.
+ Explored the 7 cascading pools. Jumped from one to the next, slid down rocks. Swam around and talked with other travelers.
+ Joined up with other larger tour group to explore cave by candlelight. Swam, climbed, slid and jumped. Met expat from Kentucky who now owns hostel in Antigua.
+ Corey did a rope swing into the river!
+ Our group of 5 tubed down the river. Great views of the waterfall!
+ Corey did bridge jumping into the river. Manu only wanted to jump once but Corey called him a Rojo pollo! Lol! Then Manu shouted “No polloooo!” As he jumped off the bridge again.
+ Rode back to the hostel in the back of a pickup truck. Truck stopped halfway back to load up with firewood and many locals. Corey talked with nice guy from Switzerland who has biked entire west coast of US. He started biking in Vancouver and was now in Guatemala! That’s insane!
+ Met our new roommates in our boxspring-loft: a couple from Tasmania  (“Tazzy” as they called it) and a nice German guy.
+ Spent the evening comparing dangerous animals from our respective countries and learning new card games.

1/10
+ We were up and ready to go at 5am to catch a ride to Lanquin (nearby larger city) to catch the shuttle to Antigua and then onward to Xela. No hostel staff was up and we appeared to be only guests leaving that early. At 530, Liz had to wake the hostel staff who groggily called us a pickup truck to get to Lanquin. (We assume the hostel staff must have forgotten we were leaving at all)
+ Found the shuttle in Lanquin with a few other tourists from other hostels. Eventually left and rode 9hrs to Antigua.
+ After arriving in Antigua, immediately jumped on another  shuttle bus for 4hr ride to Quetzaltenango (Xela).
+  Half way there we stopped for bano  near Chicitenango. We had been eating chips and snacks all day and really wanted some real food. Corey ran across the street and found some delicious fried chicken and potato wedges. When we were done with the chicken, Corey fed some of the street dogs that were hanging around the gas station.
+ We arrived at Parque Centro in Xela after dark. (That’s over 12hrs of travel! ) We met our air bnb host, Rosita, at McDonalds and she led us back to her apartment.
+ Rosita and Irvin were great hosts during our stay! Very accomodating and friendly!
+ Ate delicious street tacos for less than $1.50!
+ Xela is known for their fresh bread and drinking chocolate. Yummm!

1/11
+ Explored historic Xela. Booked Tour for volcano hike the next day.
+ Stopped into Xelapan – a delicious bakery chain that offers everything from French bread, huge chocolate croissants, and even funny bread shaped like snapping turtles!
+ Refilled our snack arsenal at the local super Mercado.
+ Ate lunch at restaurant  tipico- authentic guatemalan food.
+ Did some research back at the apartment while Corey watched the 1st half of the national championship game in spanish. Lols
+ Went out with Rosita to local sport bar called “Playroom” to watch 2nd half of game. Very westernized with sports paraphernalia all over the walls from every sport or activity ever invented! (Even chess and luge!) Corey explained americano football rules to Rosita.
+ Irvin met up with us after he got off work. Drank local beers and then moved to another bar for local dark beer- Moza. It was served out of a carafe!
+ Walked back together late and had to avoid the street dogs. According to Rosita and Irvin, the street dogs are much more aggressive and territorial at night!

1/12
+ Caught shuttle to Santa Maria volcano at 5am
+ Began hiking around 5:30 am. Finally arrived at the summit (12,375ft) at 9am. We were above the tree line and clouds. We could see all the  other volcanos in Guatemala! (Lake Atitilan, volcanos bordering Mexico, etc) Stayed until 10:30am. Watched the nearby volcano, Santiaguito, erupt! Many locals also climb the summit to pray and make offerings.
+ Ate our chocolate croissants from Xelapan. Delicious!
+ Began climbing down at 10:30am and finally made it back to the shuttle at 1:30pm. We were completely exhausted and very dusty.
+ Ate lunch special at Giro’s gourmet pizza. Delicious and cheap!
+ Went back to apartment, showered, and napped for a few hours.
+  Liz got one last hot chocolate at nearby cafe. Yummm
+ Ate dinner tipico- soup, entree, tortillas, and drink for $6 total!!
+ Went back to apartment and researched transportation to San Pedro for the next day.

1/13
+  Hung out at apartment, packed up, and updated blog.
+ Ate lunch at Pollo  Campero- a Guatemala chain similar to PDQ.
+ Caught local city bus (collectivo) to Minerva bus station. Very hectic.  Everyone we asked for San Pedro directed us 2 blocks away from the bus station.
+ Confused and nervous with all of our gear, we walked through large local markets offering everything under the sun! from Holister clothes to raw meats! Eventually we came out on the other side of the markets, to see many more chicken buses. (We’re still not sure why so many buses were blocks away from the actual bus station!)
+ Hectic situation again, we eventually found one of the brightly decorated buses to take us to San Pedro on Lake  Atitilan.
+ Chicken bus dropped us off in San Marcos, caught another chicken bus to San Pedro.
+ Views coming into town of the mountains, volcanos and Lake Atitlan were INCREDIBLE!
+ Frantically jumped off bus with all our gear and walked through city to San Pedro Spanish school.
+ Checked in and were escorted to our homestay by the youngest daughter of the local family, Billie.
+ We have a nice size room with a private, albeit very tiny bathroom. The bathroom is about the size of one you would find on an airplane. Corey barely fits in bathroom sideways.
+ Met all the family members: Rosa (madre), 4 daughters and 1 son: Melissa, Lezlie, Linda, Billie, y Julio. 2 babies: Abigail and Guillermo (cutest baby ever! He blows kisses when you say hola)
+ Met 2 other students staying with same family: Yvonne and Alice both from Australia.
+ Ate a nice authentic dinner with the family and students.

1/14
+ Started 1st day of Spanish school at 8am in a beautiful garden right next to the lake! Corey and I have individual teachers.
+ Finished class at 1 (5 hours of study) and went back to our homestay and had a big delicious lunch with our family and other students. (Lunch is biggest meal of day in Guatemala).
+ Spent the afternoon researching online and having a siesta in the hammocks overlooking the lake.
+ Ate dinner with everyone and studied Spanish in the evening before bed.

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