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Granada, Nicaragua

Granada is a beautiful city and always a must-see for anyone visiting Nicaragua. It is located just south of Managua, the capital, and on Lake Nicaragua (where Isla de Ometepe is and the bull sharks live).

The city is named after the Spanish city of the same name. The architecture and layout of the city also mimic its European history. The center of town has turned into a huge tourist hub. There are horses drawn carriages to take you around the town square, souvenir stands everywhere, and hotels/hostels on each block.

The city is gorgeous. There are huge colonial buildings painted in beautiful colors and several amazing churches.

Granada has a nice little museum a few blocks from the main square. It’s in an old church and beautiful! My favorite part was that it was cool in the courtyard. (I live in the rainforest at a very high altitude by CR standards. I live in sweatshirts and fleeces. When I go on vacation and experience typical tropical weather, I melt. I hate it. It’s bad.) The museum is pretty eclectic. They had some really neat old ceramic pots, crucifixes, and huge sculptures.

From the city square there is a street that runs all the way (10 blocks or so) to the port on Lake Nicaragua. This street is the center for tourists, although we did see many Nicas here as well. Almost every building for 3 or 4 blocks is a restaurant, and the few that aren’t are hostels, hotels, or tour companies.

End of the street on Lake Nicaragua.

End of the street on Lake Nicaragua.

You can find anything to eat here. We particularly enjoyed the burgers and wings from a roadhouse place while enjoying the Little League World Series. (Hey, I live in Central America, I can enjoy a US meal when I’m out). We also indulged in Irish food, gelato, etc.

Besides good food, you will also find Nicaragua’s delightful begging children here. I believed I mentioned them in my San Juan del Sur post. By far, they are my least favorite part of coming to this country. Street vendors don’t bother me. You can ask me if I want to buy a pack of cigarets or a vase. Then when I say no, that’s the end of the story. These kids though, well they are much more persistent (actually pushy, annoying, and rude). “No gracias” followed by “no” and “NO” again is an exchange you can expect repeat every 5-10 minutes or more.

Back to the baseball… remember I said when you cross the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border you enter a completely different world? Baseball is a perfect example of this. Costa Ricans could not care less about baseball. I have never seen a game in this country. Nicaragua? Our first taxi driver asked us about the Yankees. In Costa Rica, every town has a soccer field. In Nicaragua, every town has a baseball field. The cities even put money into large baseball stadiums. I do not like baseball in general, but it was nice to sit down and watch the game in the restaurant. I’ve been here for 7 and a half months, so reminders of home are always appreciated.

A highlight of our Granada adventure was the Mombacho Cigar Factory. This was a requirement from Charlie before we left, but I figured I could learn about one more thing I don’t consume. (I can tell you the basics of how beer, wine, and coffee are made. I don’t drink any of them.) To my surprise, it was really neat! They have maybe 10 people there hand rolling and then hand testing each cigar. After watching how they do that, we were taken into the back where they store the cigars while they age. I don’t smoke, but wow it smelled good! (It was also air conditioned which was great because I melt here, remember?) They even have a beautiful outdoor lounge where you can sit and smoke and have a drink.

One morning we took a walk through the local market. This market is HUGE and sells everything from food to clothing to items for the home. Busy markets don’t tend to shock me much, but there was one big difference in this market. Meat is kept out. I mean, you walk by a lady that has a bunch of filets (of any meat) sitting in a basket in front of her (in the 90+ degree heat) while she waves a hand fan over it to keep the flies away. Blech!

We also heard two squealing pigs around the corner and within a minute you could see the guy walking through the aisle with one pig leg in each hand while the little pigs squirmed and screamed bloody murder. Nothing surprises me here anymore.

I have to skip ahead a little bit for Granada Round 2. We met Zach in Leon (our next city) and then backtracked to Granada for a night to catch our bus back to CR.

One of the churches allows you to climb their bell tower to see the city. I thought this would be a great idea! It’s $1 and you get a great view of the city. It was a great idea until I saw the staircase. It was steep, narrow, spiraled, and open. I basically freaked out the whole way up grabbing for whatever I could hold on to. After finally making it to the top though, the view was definitely worth it. (The trip down was very similar, except in the dark with an old Nica man behind me who seemed a little irritated. Sorry!)

So that’s Granada!


Ometepe, Nicaragua

The vacation I’ve been waiting for!

“Summer” has been long, stressful, and exhausting. The light at the end of the tunnel was a vacation with Charlie once he got off course. He got back with the plan (thanks Zach!) of a week in Nicaragua hitting Ometepe, Granada, Leon, and possibly San Juan del Sur.
Volcano close upAs usual, the car, bus, taxi, bus process didn’t let us down and we were on our way northwest to Nicaragua. This was my second time to Nicaragua and it still stuns me how you can cross the border and be in a different world. With the exception of a shared language, Costa Rica and Nicaragua couldn’t be much more different.

Right when you cross the border you are met by two beautiful volcanoes to the east. They form the island of Ometepe, our first destination. It took us a bike taxi and a ferry, but we got there pretty painlessly (thanks to Charlie’s awesome planning). One interesting note if you ever visit: is there are “taxes” (entrance fees) to go anywhere. It’s usually only about a dollar, but slightly annoying anyway.

Island of Ometepe from Lake Nicaragua

Island of Ometepe from Lake Nicaragua

It was a nice hour long journey to the island. It is located in Lake Nicaragua, the biggest lake in Central America (and 19th in the world). Fun (and terrifying) fact: there are bull sharks in this lake! “…in Nicaragua have been seen leaping up river rapids, salmon-like, to reach inland Lake Nicaragua.” AHHHHHH! Some of our courses kayak the Rio San Juan (the river rapids they’re mentioning) and all I could envision is kayaking down the river and having a giant bull shark jump out of the river at you!

Well Ometepe was amazing. The town itself is fairly small. While there are hotels and resorts all over the island, we chose to find a hostel in town.
Ometepe from the beachNicaraguans seem to love their pizza. As we set out for food, our choices seemed to be: fancy pizza, pizza cafe, storefront pizza, or pizza truck. We chose the “fancy” pizza place mainly because of how close it was since we were starving. We did not choose wrong! The pizza was delicious and you couldn’t beat the price of one big pizza, soda, and 2 beers (and tax & tip) for $15. (We may have ended up going back the next night.)

The second day we had to move hostels so we checked into an amazing bed & breakfast called The Cornerhouse. It was a little bit of a splurge for us (at $35 including breakfast), but the rooms were wonderful and the food was delicious. It’s nearly impossible to find good bread here, but they make some tasty bread in house for toast and sandwiches. The owner is a super friendly British guy who was incredibly accommodating. Since we showed up with no plans, we asked him for suggestions and he kindly listed out several options.

Our ride for the day.

Our ride for the day.

On his recommendation, we rented a little moped to drive around the island. For $25 we got a day of entertainment that was definitely worth it! The island is made up of two volcanoes and this allowed us to check out both, the beach, and all the towns in between. I was very surprised at how many towns there are! They surround the entire island.

Beach between the two volcanoes.

Beach between the two volcanoes.

We were told the first day that there was a fiesta happening in town. Originally we thought it would be pretty cool to check out, until we got the inside scoop that it’s really an excuse for the locals to get wasted. Nicaragua is putting a lot of effort into their tourism industry. This fiesta was put on by the Nicaragua Tourism Board and they’re doing a tour of these street parties throughout the country.

Ox Float

Ox Float

We watched all day as bus loads of people were driven up the main street. I mean bus after bus after bus (and “full” Central American style, which is a whole different level of full). The island is big, but not that big! There was also going to be a parade, but the rain had other plans. We did get to see some floats though (decorated carts) and their cheerleaders. Yes, those are thigh high, lace up, platform boots.

Cheerleaders- look closely at the boots

Cheerleaders- look closely at the boots

Horse float

Horse float

That night was loud. They partied all night. The next morning I was pretty happy to be leaving, but I would go back in a heartbeat. It really is a beautiful place!


Michelle’s and my last hurrah before she left!

Like all good trips around here, our adventure began with a: car, bus, taxi, bus, bus, and water taxi. But for the first time we didn’t have to leave at 4:30am which was nice.

Bus ride there. Who needs roads?

Bus ride there. Who needs roads?

Old water taxi

Old water taxi

Tortuguero (translated means the Land of Turtles) is a region on the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It’s a unique peninsula with a river (and many canals) on one side and the Caribbean sea on the other. The town is tiny and the “streets” are more like muddy ally ways. You come to Tortugero for one reason: to see the animals. And we made sure to plan our trip in right in the middle green turtle nesting season.

"Streets" in town

“Streets” in town

As we stepped off the boat, we met a wonderful guide named Mauricio from Rainforest Life Tours. He showed us to our hostel and then gave us his whole spiel about the tours. Michelle and I didn’t need any convincing. We knew we wanted the tours, we liked him, so we signed right up for his 3 tours.

I almost forgot to mention our trip in… it poured! Now we live in a rainforest, we’re used to rain, but this was a little excessive even for us. Sure enough, when we arrived they were talking about the “big storm” that just passed through losing power for the town. Normally this isn’t a big deal for us (again, we living in a rainforest), but it meant there was no coffee to be found! So we walked around for a few minutes then crawled into bed for our afternoon nap.

The streets of Tortuguero.

The streets of Tortuguero.

The problem with sea turtles is they work on their own schedule. So even though we were pretty tired from our trip we headed out late to see some turtles. We met with Mauricio’s wife, Yolanda, and a local guide. We then hung around for a while before one of “turtle spotters” found a turtle. Now there’s some fun drama around this, because on our night there was a meeting between the normal (ie: trained) turtle spotters and local hotels. So instead, other people were acting in their place. This led to a misidentification of a turtle digging her whole as one covering it, to children getting in the way of turtles, and various other problems. But… we still got to see 3 in our two hour tour including one laying eggs! It is pretty amazing how they are oblivious to the crowds around them.

Turtle tracks all the way up the beach the next morning.

Turtle tracks all the way up the beach the next morning.

The next day we woke up bright an early for our canoe tour of the canals. But again the weather wasn’t cooperating. We woke up to pouring rain, howling winds, and thunder and lightning. But here comes Mauricio barefoot and soaking wet rescheduling us for 3 hours later. Great! Back to sleep we went.
Turtle!Canal tour

The tour ended up being great! The weather held out and we saw tons of amazing animals. This included birds, spider monkeys (which are huge), jesus christ lizards, a chameleon, fresh water turtles, and… the caiman.

This is where having a guide really helps you out, because we would have never found him on our own. It was amazing because we were able to get so close to him and he never left!
Caiman close up

We ended the day with a hike through the national park. I think Michelle and I were bad participants on this trip. When you’re visiting Costa Rica, you tend to get very excited about the giant spiders, huge moths, and unique flora. Once you’ve been living here for a while you’ve seen it all a hundred times, and too often in your house.

But we did see a sloth and her baby, some unique cricket things, an itty bitty frog, and (finally) and eyelash viper. It was definitely worth the trip (especially since we got it for “free” after paying for the other 2 tours), but nothing ultra exciting.

At the hostel we met another traveler doing something really interesting with a can of tuna. Upon asking, we found out you can “cook” a can of tuna using a piece of toilet paper. It was a trick he learned from some Israeli soldiers. Kinda cool…
Cooking tuna

After grabbing our seats on the water taxi, we found our tuna cooking hostel friend sitting next to us. This time we got his name, Ruben, and found out he was finishing his adventures in Costa Rica. He has a very interesting story and has traveled all over the world but is now working in Brazil. He specializes in accent reduction with his own company, Linguistix.

We chatted with Ruben the whole way home including water taxi, bus, bus, bus… etc. He stayed with us that night before leaving early to catch his flight home. It’s always nice to meet interesting people on the road. It makes the actual traveling part much more fun!

Cuatro de Julio

Last Thursday I watched Despicable Me in Spanish, hung out with a bunch of gringos in Costa Rica watching fireworks, and finished up the night eating tacos with Columbians and dancing! What a great way to celebrate Independence Day!

There has been a big lead up to the 4th of July since I arrived here. Apparently there are enough North Americans here that the holiday is an excuse to party even in Costa Rica!

We don’t get any holidays off at work, but we called the work day a little early and headed into Escazu. This is the fancy/wealthy area of Costa Rica. The mall, it’s like a REAL mall. It makes you feel like a REAL person. Life on the mountain can get pretty dirty and gross, but being here made us all feel so much better! Plus, they have this:

Put your kid in a giant ziplock bag, blow it up, then put them in a pool. So much fun!

Put your kid in a giant ziplock bag, blow it up, then put them in a pool. So much fun!

Allison and I headed to the movies (with our new friends) hoping to find something good. What’s better than Despicable Me 2 in 3D in Spanish? (Also known as Mi Villano Favorito 2.) We then headed to “party central” for the fireworks. I guess the rain scared most people away because it was pretty quiet but allowed us to get great seats for the fireworks. We met some new PeaceCorps friends (they’re everywhere here!) and chatted with them while watching the show.

Fireworks here are definitely not legal in the U.S. They explode very very low and you can see them hitting the ground. But it’s Costa Rica, who cares?!?!

To end the night we went back to Jeff’s house and had some tacos with his Columbian roommate and her brother before heading out for some dancing. I met a very very patient Tico who worked with my terrible dance skills. The best part about Latino dance partners? If you’re not in the right place at the right time, they just move you so you are. 🙂

It was a great and very unique way to end our cuatro de julio.

In other news… tomorrow I head off to Bocas to meet Charlie and finally dive!

Un Fin de Semana de Compras

Sorry, no photos on this post. Our internet is being special.

This weekend Michelle and I went on some shopping adventures. On Saturday, we headed down to Tres Rios (our local town) to do some grocery shopping at the farmer’s market. Next time I go down I will try to accept my gringa status a little more and just take some photos. Produce seems to be the only thing that is cheap around here, but almost everything is ridiculously cheap at the farmers market. Two pineapples for a dollar anyone? I might have gone a little overboard and bought way to much, but I had an entire giant reusable shopping bag filled with produce and spent about $20.

The people are all very nice. There were some things that we didn’t recognize so they would explain how we can prepare and eat it. I picked up some guanábana which is this super juicy and very fibrous fruit you can drink as juice, mix with milk for smoothies, or just eat it. I’ve been going the “just eat it route” because I find it a filling and sweet snack.

I also bought a pupusa from this woman from El Salvador. They are amazing! They’re two thick tortillas filled with pork, cheese, beans, and onions. She then grills them in fatty goodness and tops them with a cabbage and chilli slaw. Yum yum yum! Since they’re so filling, I ate half there for lunch and took the other half home for part of my dinner… $2 well spent!

As we were walking out, we stopping to get one more thing. The woman standing next to us turned and started talking to me, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. (Usually I can get the main idea.) After Michelle asked her to repeat herself, we realized she was asking me a question: “Are your boobs plastic?” “No son plasticos,” Michelle responded, and the woman just sort of shrugged. The poor vendor seemed super uncomfortable though! We laughed about it all the way home.

Before heading home though we stopped at Mas X Menos (a supermarket) for odds and ends. You have to be careful when shopping because everything is so expensive. Cheese is a treat, candy is something you can’t afford, and forget about any meat besides dark meat chicken. I don’t know how Ticos do it.

Sunday we traveled the hour by bus to San Jose. I’ve been in and out of the city a couple times, but never had the opportunity to walk around. We went to their “artisan fair” which is basically an area with booths selling typical souvenir items. I met a guy who made me a ring and told me it’s “probably the only free thing you’ll get in Costa Rica.” If you look really hard you can see it’s my “pura vida” ring with a P V and a happy face.

I then had a guy at a pasteleria laugh at my Spanish, but I didn’t care because I still got my ice cream! (Ice cream is a treat here.) We also tried half of a doughnut, but only half because it was not good and had a hairspray aftertaste. Clearly it will be a long long time before I have a doughnut again.

Finally, we went on a long adventure to visit a friend who lives by El Estadio Nacional. The stadium is adjacent to a huge park that was packed with people on Sunday. Our walk around it reminded me a lot of walking through the Rose Bowl on a weekend: people playing soccer, baseball, and lacrosse, many runners, bikers, and skaters, and lots of families hanging out and enjoying the day. There was even a pony ride set up!

Overall it was a productive weekend. Now we’re gearing up for our three day hike/homestay adventure this weekend!

“A Post” Especial Para Juan

I don’t know how to translate that into Spanish…

I decided to write an impromptu post about a really interesting man that Michelle and I met last night. Our street has some lingering stories about it not being super safe. (Don’t worry family, we’re always careful when we’re out.) So last night we came home late from San Jose, and because we live at “600m noreste de la última parada del bus de San Ramón de Tres Ríos” (yes, that is actually our address and means we live about .4 of a mile past the last bus stop), we asked the driver if he could drive us up the hill a little further. He said he couldn’t, but he did ask an older gentleman if he would walk us home.

So we walked up our street with a man named Juan de He… (we can’t remember his whole last name) who lives 5 houses up from us in the white house. (Again, that’s how addresses are done around here.) He was very nice and told us he has never had any problems on our street and it is safe, etc. We chatted for a while (and by that I mean Michelle chatted, and I listened), and he told us he doesn’t speak any English. So Michelle taught him how to say “my name is” and “we walk together.”

What’s interesting about Juan is he has never been outside of Costa Rica. He has lived here and stayed here his entire life. To give you a little perspective, Costa Rica is smaller than West Virginia, half the size of Kentucky, a quarter of the size of Oklahoma, and an eighth of the size of California. However, he has never even traveled the 80 miles or so to Nicaragua or Panama. When we asked him why this was, he explained that he works a lot and gets very little vacation, and he wants to spend what little vacation he has with his family.

He went on to explain how this is home for him. He was born here, has lived here, and will die here. When he dies, he wants to be buried on his land, because that is his home, but Costa Rican law says you must be buried in a cemetery.

It’s crazy to think that here I am living and working in a completely new country with all of these new and exciting experiences, and right up the street is Juan, who will never see another country.

View from our bus stop. (Sorry for the quality.)

View from our bus stop. (Sorry for the quality.)

Dos Maletas

Ever wonder what 100 pounds of clothes and personal items looks like? Ya, me neither. Until about two weeks ago.

You see, airlines are just so picky! They insist they I can only bring two bags that only weigh 50 lbs each. Stupid airlines…

It’s funny, when I was going to backpack Europe for 6 months, I had ZERO concerns about living out of my 51 liter backpack. But I’m MOVING to Costa Rica, not backpacking, so for some reason I need a ton of stuff. :-/

My adventure started by buying way to much. As you know, I’m not really a shopper. Ok, so I don’t shop at all… same thing. But tell me it might be a little harder for me to get something for the next year, and all of the sudden I need it now! Honestly, a lot of what I bought I’ve been “looking at” for a while now, but I might have gone a little overboard too.

For example, this is why I’m never allowed to go to REI again:

Or order off of Amazon:

Or go bra and bathing suit shopping (although I looooooove my new bathing suits from Jennette Bras):

That’s ok though, because I’m just never allowed to buy anything again. Ever.

Now back to the problem at hand. Get this to fit United Airlines’ regulations:

Yeah, I know. This is also a good lesson in our consumer based society. I own way too much crap. I still have a whole room full of more dresses, jackets, shirts, dress clothes, shoes, etc. etc. etc. that will never see Costa Rica.

But don’t you worry! (Because I know you were worried.) Voila! My luggage to Costa Rica:

Ok, it’s actually 2 bags, plus my backpack which is my carry on, plus my messenger bag which is my personal item. But still, I think that’s pretty darn good, and I deserve an A+ in packing.

In other news… in just a few hours I’ll be in Costa Rica! Everyone keeps asking me if I’m nervous, but I’m really not. I’m a little stressed because I didn’t get everything done here that I needed to, so I’m going with the “it will all work out in the end” mentality.