Posts Tagged ‘travel’

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 9


I sit here writing this in the wind tunnel that is our hostel’s common area, listening to the seemingly endless pattering of rain drops sound their reveille in the courtyard. At peace, content with the time I’ve spent in this country and ready for the next step.

Because in 48 hours I’ll be back in a restaurant kitchen, listening not to the sounds of Nicaraguan rain but rather to the sounds of ticket orders printing, microwaves beeping, chicken sizzling on the grill and my boss telling me what he thinks I forgot to do.

So, in light of all I have to look forward to, I’m soaking up what I can now, making each second last a lifetime and each minute an eternity.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 9
the final day

We stayed in Leon for a couple hours, taking care of last-minute items, closing our tabs and grabbing breakfast. Storing things in my pack proved interesting this time around because now I had three two-and-a-half-foot-long machetes to pack (read: “hide”).

We eventually headed to the cab that took us to the bus stop that took us to Managua, where we grabbed another cab that took us to the Peace Corps HQ for Nicaragua. Suddenly having access to a computer for each of us individually, we did the first thing any 20-something would do after being disconnected for so long: we logged onto Facebook.

back to civilization

For the first time in nine days, we checked in at a hotel instead of a hostel. We reeked of must and mold, and me, A and C wanted nothing more than a hot shower and to feel clean for the first time in the trip. And OH, t’was a glorious shower! I cannot emphasize to you enough how amazing it felt to feel the hot water, the steam, cleansing me of my nastiness. I cleaned off with a dry towel then went to put on my clothes . . . my clothes that still stubbornly maintained the lingering scent of mold. But, they were the cleanest ones I had, so I threw them on with vigor and went to lay down in my bed for a quick nap before dinner.

One thing you should know about me: I hate television. I believe it to be a tool of the devil to lull us into mindlessness and turn our brains to mush. We’re not challenged when we watch TV. We’re rarely stimulated. And we just sit . . . for hours. Wheel of Fortune, then Jeopardy, then Survivor, then Glee, then Real Housewives of Orange County (that last one which, by the way, makes me hate people), then whatever other crap show we watch. I prefer Family Guy :). When I lived with one other person we had no cable, and it was amazing. It’s so much easier to communicate without disassociated voices and a constant buzz in the background.

So after the shower when I laid down to catch some z’s and re-energize, I failed to do either, attributed to the fact that we had a TV in the room and one of the greatest shows of all time was on: Dawson’s Creek.

I honestly debated shooting myself in the face.

We spent our last night in Nicaragua experiencing a very different part of the country. Shopping malls, hotels, a food court and a movie theater – it felt like a totally different country. To pass the time we watched a movie in said theater called Friends with Benefits. If you haven’t seen it, just so you’re prepared, you get a lot of butt-shots, side-boob shots of Mila Kunis and angled views of Justin Timberlake’s six-pack. I couldn’t help but laugh at the reactions of the Nicaraguan crowd around us. They laughed without reservation, and literally ooo’d and ahhh’d when they got one of the above-mentioned shots. Picture a laugh track on a sitcom where the protagonist challenges someone else, using an incredibly cheesy one-liner, and the laugh track goes “ohhhhhhhHHHHHHH” in a rising crescendo. This happened without the assistance of that laugh track. Hy-sterical. That was one of the coolest experiences, only because it was unbridled reaction without concern for judgment or opinion. I always worry when I go to a movie on a first date and I laugh WAY more than my date does, so I felt very at home here!

(Aside: This movie was actually really funny. An appearance by Woody Harrelson as a gay co-worker and JT’s fear of heights pretty much made the movie.)

After a final round of euchre back at the hotel to decide the week’s champion team (A and M won . . . bastards), we called it a night and set our alarms to catch our 7:15 flight the next morning. Our experience was over and it was time to go back to our respective lives in the States. A and C went back to New York and I ventured back to Cleveland. After 20 hours of travel time that included cab > plane > layover > plane > train > train > car, I walked into my house at 5 a.m. and set my alarm for 10, ready to head back to work at 11 and settle back down to my life.

conclusion to the nicaraguan chronicles

I hope you all enjoyed The Nicaraguan Chronicles! I had so much fun writing these, and they were definitely a challenge at times, but one I welcomed with arms wider than the Alton Giant.

I apologize if you were hoping for more excitement or drama or a climactic conclusion where I vanquished evil and stood upon its corpse in a Captain Morgan pose. Unfortunately I found no evil to vanquish, no damsels in distress to defend, and no bad guys to exchange one-liners with when I killed them. If I had, I probably would have said something like, “Let off some steam, Roberto,” after I threw a pipe through his chest . . . a chest that for some reason is covered in chain mail. Who wears chain mail in this day and age?! Honestly!

I had someone ask me the other day, “Where’s the fights? Where’s the drama? Where’s the sex?” And to that I simply say, “My parents read this blog.”


the nicaraguan chronicles – part 8


It’s been raining for nearly six days now. Standing under the archway leading into our hostel, I watch the downpour continue unabated. Nobody runs through the rain like they do in the States, shoulders hunched, faces all scrunched up, as if somehow those actions will keep us dry. Or do any good at all. The Nicaraguans just accept it and move on, faces merely slightly scrunched, most times in a smile, but still diligently managing their sidewalk kiosks, selling what they can sell, everything covered in plastic until someone wants to examine it. Given the rain’s on-and-off nature, many groups huddle temporarily under awnings and in doorways to shops and restaurants. Nobody shoos them off. I like that.

The pattering on the awning above me, I smile, feeling for a moment like I’m in a Bruce Hornsby song, listening to the dull wash of raindrops, knowing this experience is coming to an end.

The roads to Chinandega are still closed. Leon, and Bigfoot, is our residence for our last true day in this strange and wonderful country. I say “true” because tomorrow we head back to Managua, the capital, to be near the airport for our 7 a.m. flight the following day.

Alas, all must come to an end – but not before we’ve had our way with it.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 8
adventures in the rain

We’re all in last-day mode now, figuring out things we can do that will make our last day memorable, trying not to let our moods be affected by the rain and grey skies. After a delicious breakfast – our last taste of gallo pinto – we became pseudo-hipsters for an afternoon. Wandering in and out of various coffee shops and bars, sometimes drinking beer, sometimes drinking smoothies, sometimes drinking lemonade. All depends on the mood of the hour.

We wander through the open-air market in the middle of town, explore the largest cathedral in Central America, and buy gifts for friends and family back home. Apparently that’s something you need to do when you go on trips like this. I wandered away from the group at one point and headed to the nearest hardware store. I had my own souvenirs to purchase.

A and C exploring in the rain

A hardware store in Leon – and maybe the rest of the country for all I know – consists of an 8’x8′ room with shelves towering to the ceiling, holding rusty tools and myriad cans of paint, as well as a medley of other odds and ends, varying greatly depending on the store.

“Tienes un machete?” I ask the portly storekeeper.

“Si,” she nods, quickly saying something else as she moves to grab the item.

I laugh and say, “No entiendo. Lo siento. Mi espanol esta horible.” No idea how my conjugation and sentence structure is playing out. After eight days in the country, I’ve realized I can scrape by with a few simple words, hand gestures and a sincere smile. Interacting with the locals was the most rewarding aspect of the trip, and I was awful at it.

The storekeeper smiles and slides a machete off the ground, out from under a box that was under a few cans of paint that was under a box filled with a random selection of hand tools. Rust spots abound along the “hand tool,” but it looks in decent enough condition.

“Gracias. Tres, por favor?”

She nods and motions for a coworker to help me. He wraps the three machetes in newspaper and packing tape so I won’t accidentally cut a bitch or shank a ho. I pay the storekeeper 80 cords a piece (that’s less than $4 for a Nicaraguan hand tool that, when brought to the U.S., will be considered a legit sword). As I really take in the size of these blades, I find myself hoping they’ll fit in my pack.

Machete, to show you the scale

Sidenote: Nicaraguans view the machete not as a sword but as a hand tool, similar to how Americans view the hammer. Our first night in Nicaragua we passed a teenager sitting in the bed of a truck cutting up a piece of fruit with a giant machete. No big deal.

After a few more hours exploring the trendy spots in the city, and another two hours engrossed in a Spanish version of Monopoly (which, by the way, I now hate), we head back to the hostel to freshen up, which means putting on our least-moldy-smelling clothes, gelling our hair and fluffing whatever needs fluffing. Of course, this guy was the first one ready (that’s what happens when you travel with all girls :). I’m used to it though – I live with a girl). Oh yeah, we’re ready. This is our last night. Taking no chances. No prisoners. Only names. Do or die. We’re getting trashed and we’re not ashamed of it. In the words of a good friend of mine, “Sorry for partying.”

the wild night is callin’

Our first stop is all class: a fancy restaurant whose name I can’t recall, drinking a bottle of wine whose name I can – Lazo Merlot. Best Merlot I’ve had, hands down. My meal, along with the bottle of wine (split between us all) and a couple Heinekens cost me $15. Oh we’re fancy, huh.

Getting to this restaurant was no small feat, though. For the first time in the trip, we got lost and wandered through what I saw as more unsavory areas – back alleys and dark side streets. This may sound terrible, but I made sure to have a knife on me at (almost) all time throughout this trip. Maybe another sign that I’m a world-traveling rookie, but I didn’t care. I felt more secure with it on me. This was the only point in the trip I felt like I may need it, so I kept my hand ready and the safety clasp off. Thankfully, we made it to the restaurant without incident. Needless to say, we did not take the same meandering route when we departed.

banana tree

Banana Tree!

We made the acquaintance of two more single-serving friends at the first bar we moseyed into. Sebastian and Greg were two surfer boys from San Diego traveling in Nicaragua for a month. Both of them were very friendly toward me, and I later came to the conclusion that it was only because I was in the company of three beautiful women. Oh well, I’ll still call them friends for a night!

This was also my first sober introduction to salsa dancing. After my first attempt at it, my respect grew immensely for Shakira and the couples salsa dancing. That shit’s impossible. So I said screw it and headed for the bar to throw back a couple shots. I’m good at that, at least.

a first for everything

Although I try to avoid them at all costs, I have reluctantly entered a fair amount of clubs in my day. Never have I entered a club where: 1.) someone wasn’t trying to start a fight, 2.) nobody sported a faux-hawk or pink popped collar, 3.) I had fun. The club we ventured to, La Cameleon, defied all my expectations. It was light-hearted, people were more focused on having fun than they were on looking hotter than everyone else, and no dick-measuring took place. I was baffled.

By this point we were all pretty drunk and flying high. Sebastian and Greg were excellent conversationalists and everybody was having a blast, flying a magic carpet comprised of rum, beer and sexy time. One of my favorite parts of the night was when I was outside the club chatting it up with M and C steps outside with two beers in her hand. “JEFF! I HAVE YOUR BEER!” echoed through the streets of Leon, sound waves reverberating off every nearby alleyway and electrical pole, hindered only by the pouring rain that tore through the night. Couldn’t help but laugh.

Five minutes later inside the club I dropped said beer and the glass shattered, costing me 20 cords because the bars recycle the beer bottles and get a refund for the glass. Whoops.

All in all, a fantastic evening and one hell of a way to spend our last night not worried about catching a 7 a.m. plane.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 7


At dawn we each bade our own farewell to K, a sad departure in the face of new adventures and new places to explore. Later that morning she would head to Costa Rica with our new friend Bennett, beginning her journey toward and ultimately into South America. It’s like America, but south!

Our journey would take us north, across el Lago de Nicaragua, through Rivas, past Granada and the Poste Rojo Treehouse Hostel, past the rice paddies and sugar cane fields we saw on our way south – up to Chinandega, ancestral home of our friend M, to the majestic locale she’d been living in for the past year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Nicaragua is divided geographically into 15 departments – our destination was the northern part of Chinandega, the most northwestern of them all. At Little Morgan’s, we’re currently sitting on an island, an hour from the hour-long ferry ride, in the southernmost part of the country. In other words, we have one hell of a long way to go.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 7
the road to chinandega?

My biggest worry on this trip now is that I’m gonna crap my pants.

The tainted beef at the restaurant the night before is still doing the salsa in my tummy and we have a country to cross. Clenching my buttocks, I climbed into the cab and tried to emanate an aura of positive energy, repeating the affirmation, “I will not crap my pants. I will not crap my pants.”

The journey that day, in an effort to reach Chinandega, can be summed up in the following way:

Cab > Ferry > Cab > Bus > Cab > Bus > Cab > Walk to hostel

The only hiccup in our journey was that we didn’t make it to Chinandega. Somewhere during the trip, M got word from other Peace Corps volunteers and the folks in her village that the dirt roads to her village were flooded, rendering them impassable. Essentially, if we wanted to get to M’s village, we were going to have to swim.

Not sure if I mentioned this before, but it rains in Nicaragua. A lot. Primarily during the rainy season (obviously), during which we had chosen to visit. And the day we were traveling decided to be the rainiest yet (it rained even harder the following day). It was scattered and inconsistent at best, but when it rained it poured, so I determined that banality to be true. Thus, our road to M’s village was blocked, so at some point in the journey we opted to spend a night in Leon, a city just south of the department of Chinandega. This way, when the rains abated we would have a short journey the following day to our true destination. M’s village was what I was truly excited to see in Nicaragua. I wanted to see how my friend had been living for the past year and a half in this strange, exotic country. I wanted to meet her host family, to walk the paths she walked every day, to see the sights and hear the sounds that greeted her every morning. That was really why I came to Nicaragua.

But, if I had to, I guess I could settle for a night in Leon. Just one night.

Good news about the trip, though: someone upstairs was listening, apparently, and my pants were not crapped. High five.

the smelly kids

bigfoot hostelAfter seven-and-a-half hours of cab-ferry-cab-bus-etc, we arrived at our destination in Leon. . . only to find out that the hostel was all full up. Another jaunt took us a little ways away to Bigfoot, a decent hostel where we enjoyed the. . . umm. . . pleasurable. . . company, of some British chaps.

We walked into the room, dropped our stuff off, and either went into the common area to hang out for a bit or headed to an ATM nearby. One by one we all re-entered the bedroom we shared with the Brits and realized the place reeked of mold. And bad. Word spread among our fearsome foursome and as we each opened up our lockers we discovered the source of that moldy, musty scent: us.

One of the smelly kids in our hostel room ๐Ÿ™‚

WE were the smelly ones. WE were the ones nobody wanted to stay with. WE were the ones people went back to their home countries and talked about. After seven days in Nicaragua, literally every single piece of fabric within our packs carried a scent of mold or must. Some items moreso than others. And some items WAY moreso than others. I mean hell, it took us less than an hour to provide a 20’x30′ room with the ubiquitous scent of fungus and decay. And rumor has it, when you can smell yourself, you know that shit’s bad.

We did our best to let our stuff dry out even more, but there was only so much we could do at this point.

feelin’ like Hemingway

Later that evening, after some naps and some reading, we ventured out to an Italian restaurant for dinner, and the drinking began. A strong tequila sunrise coupled with pseudo-Italian cuisine got the party started (or so I thought), and we soon headed to one of M’s favorite bars in the city called Barbaro.

Thinking we were in it for the long haul at this place, and ready to spice up the night with a good buzz, I order an entire bottle of wine for myself. I’m ready to party. All the girls looked at me in disbelief, then they proceeded to inform me that none of them were planning on staying for more than a drink.

Well son of a bitch! I guess I was going to have to hail back to my OU roots and put the wine down good and fast. I laughed, knowing I was forcing it a bit, but the day had just been so “blah,” what with all the traveling and rain and lack of adventure and spice that I wanted to throw in a wild card. And alcohol deals a good hand. But alas, I was the only one feeling it. So, feelin’ like Hemingway, I drank all but a glass from my bottle and we walked back out into the rain and headed back to our hostel, me wanting to party, the ladies wanting to call it a night.

If only I had known the night we were going to have tomorrow, I wouldn’t have been so down.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 6


Sitting in the common area of Little Morgan’s, the five of us look dejectedly at one another. Lifeless gazes. Rushed breakfast. Some of us nursing hangovers, C still feeling sick. It’s 6 a.m. when the cab pulls up, and we’re tired of traveling. We haven’t stayed in a single place more than one night this whole trip and it’s catching up to us now. We recognized our error in planning a few days earlier but hoped it wouldn’t affect us like it was.

We close our tabs and check our packs to make sure we have what we need and the essentials are easily accessible. Cab driver gets out of the car and we exchange looks layered with meaning: 1.) are you ready to go? and 2.) do you really want to go? Soft laughter as we realize we’re all thinking the same thing.

Finally, A speaks up first, the most courageous of us: “Guys, let’s just not go. Let’s stay here.” I laugh, thanking whatever god, Bodhisattva or flap of a butterfly’s wings empowered her to say it first. “Yeah, let’s stay.”

We re-open our tabs, unpack our packs and settle in, all smiles.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 6
extended stay

M, A, K and I relaxed in the common area, awaiting yet another cab to come pick us up to take us to the San Ramon waterfall, an hour’s drive to another part of the island housing a national park, which in turn housed a supposedly gorgeous 500-foot waterfall. We chatted excitedly about the trip, getting mental previews of it from Shannon and Joe, the dudes we befriended the night before. We had also made a new friend later in the night whom we all immediately took to – Bennett, who would be joining the four of us in our adventure to the waterfall.

C, unfortunately, was still not feeling well and ventured back to her bunk to try and sleep off whatever ailment had struck her the day before. Also, something I haven’t mentioned up to this point: it was our last day w/ K! While the rest of us single-serving travelers were nearing the end of our out-of-States experience, K was just getting started. This fine young lady was embarking on a six-month journey throughout Central and South America and was going to be branching off from us the following morning to head down to Costa Rica. So we were happy to be spending that day with her at Little Morgan’s instead of in transit to yet another Nicaraguan hostel.

chasing waterfalls

As much as I love the song, I’ve never understood TLC’s Waterfalls, where the trio advises listeners to, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” In the context of the song I guess it, in a way, makes sense. But when someone tells you to stick to what’s comfortable, don’t take any risks…well if I listened to that advice I wouldn’t be in Nicaragua, I would still be working a 9-5 white collar job, and I wouldn’t have been able to marvel at the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen: the San Ramon waterfall on Ometepe Island.

At 8 a.m., we hopped in a minivan to take us to San Ramon, bouncing and jouncing once again over the awful unpaved roads inherent to the island. At one point, Bennett, K and I had to get out to push the van out of a ditch, where I may or may not have accidentally broken the covering on the taillight. Whoops. “Well,” I tell myself, “it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

Wish I would have had that thought my first day in the country when I lost $180.

Entrance to the park

We arrived at the park and were immediately greeted with all the beauty Nicaragua has to offer. Low-lying clouds moving swiftly over not-so-distant mountains, birds dipping and climbing all around us, riding the warm thermals up to perch on trees and electrical poles, a slight spattering of rain drops. It hasn’t stopped raining on and off for three days, but right now we’re not bothered by it. This place is gorgeous, and we’re not even close to the waterfall yet.

We began the three-kilometer trek uphill to our destination, chatting idly along the way, learning about Bennett and where he comes from and where he’s going. The hike’s more consistently steeper than what we expected, but no one complains and we head deeper into the sprawling wilderness, me keeping a vigilant eye out for murderous spiders, treacherous scorpions and the cantankerous coral snakes.

the san ramon waterfall

hiking rock-strewn trails

Bennett on the march

The Nicaraguan waterfall was our destination, the rock-strewn path our journey. About a third of the way there some of our hangovers really started to kick in and the going got slow. Up we climbed, hands on knees we rested, this was our only legitimate hike in the country and the scenery was simply incredible. After roughly an hour and a half we caught our first glimpse of the waterfall.

Our pace quickened.

san ramon waterfall

See it?

The San Ramon waterfall is 56 meters high (approximately 184 feet) and cascades at a near straight drop from top to bottom. Simply put: gorgeous.

San Ramon Waterfall

That's me!

I felt like a little kid, gazing at this masterpiece of nature (a bit melodramatic, but you don’t understand – I. Love. Waterfalls.) I could have sat and stared at this waterfall for hours. There was just such a positive energy about the place. I knew that if I was ever to come back to Nicaragua, this would be one of the places I revisited.

The waterfall empties into a waist-deep pool at its base, allowing us to make our way out to stand beneath the downpour. It was exhilarating and Bennett and I couldn’t help smiling and laughing when a strong wave of water would threaten to push us down into the pool. It stings a little, when water falls in torrents from 184 feet onto your shoulders and back, but it was worth every single spec of pain.


Every touristy trip needs a little R&R from time to time, and after returning from the San Ramon waterfall via another hour-long cab ride along bumpy roads, it was chill time for this Cleveland boy.

M, K, Shannon, Joe and Bennett headed to a natural spring a little ways down the road, while A, C (having thankfully slept off her sickness) and I hung out in the common area, just talking, reading, hanging out with the hostel owner’s 4-year-old son – the little Morgan – and drinking Coke (mainly for all of its health benefits). A relaxing afternoon doing a whole lot of nothing was exactly what we needed.

beef – it’s what’s for dinner

Upon their return, Shannon and Joe recommended a neat little restaurant down the road we could head to for dinner. It ended up being literally the front porch of a house, but it was a very cool feel and the eight of us (M, A, C, K, me, Shannon, Joe, Bennett) settled in for a few beers and nice dinner.

One thing we learned about Nicaragua: don’t have expectations when it comes to the food service industry. All throughout the trip it seemed like (from a Western perspective), we were treated with a sense of mild neglect. The server would get our drinks, take our order, then we wouldn’t see them again until our food came out. And then we wouldn’t see them again until we asked for our bill. Proactive is the name of the game when it comes to enjoying a dining experience here, and this restaurant was no different. After waiting more than an hour for our food to arrive, which wasn’t bad thanks to the pleasant company, we enjoyed our dinner of either chicken, beef or breakfast food (eggs and the now-famous gallo pinto).

Five of us ordered the beef. One of us got sick. Yep – this guy.

Less than two hours after dinner my stomach decided it wanted to be an Olympic gymnast for the next 12 hours. Somersaults, twists, turns – nothing was out of line for what this beef did to my internal organs. Once we arrived back at the hostel I headed straight to my bed and did my best to get some sleep, hoping my stomach would be better come morning, but I ended up spending a solid amount of time glued to the toilet at the other end of the hostel.

Didn’t have regular bowel movements for eight days. Yeah . . . how’s that for TMI?

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 5


Nobody slept well, that night we spent at El Zopilote. Well, except A. That girl could sleep through anything, apparently. A combination of bug bites and rogue raindrops spattering us through the once-ascetic-now-shitty thatch roof made us all a bit grumpy. I know what you’re thinking. “You’re in Nicaragua! You’re on vacation! You should be loving every minute!” Well to that, good sir or madam, I cry out in a half-sob, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!”

Many of our clothes were musty by this point, and the increasing rainfall was doing nothing to brighten our moods. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m normally a huge fan of precipitation in all its forms. Except sleet…that one kind of blows no matter what. Regardless, we were supposed to climb a volcano that morning, and it wasn’t looking ideal in the midst of the torrential downpour we were experiencing at 6 a.m.

Ometepe Island sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and is made up of two volcanoes: Maderas, the volcano upon which we were residing, and Concepcion. When the guide arrived to take us to the top of Maderas, the hostel worker came down to ask if we still wanted to go. Looking despondently at one another, we all realized that hiking for nearly 12 hours in the pouring rain the day after traveling for six hours to get to this hostel was not an idea any of us were really warming up to. Unanimously we decided we would not be getting soaked to the bone.

The next hour was made up of two things: packing our stuff while we waited for the rain to die down, and M arguing with the hostel manager to get our money back for the second night we had already reserved. We weren’t staying here. Leaky roof, poor accommodations, and a lack of electricity were apparently not enough to convince the jerk to give us each our $6 back.

Flipping the metaphorical finger, we left Zopilote and headed for another hostel, this one lakeside, less than a click away, and ten times better.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 5
little morgan’s

Little Morgan’s was by far the best hostel we stayed at, in my humble (but always correct) opinion. A relaxing atmosphere, lake access, friendly crowd and one chatty Brit told me that we made the right choice in moving our tab to Little Morgan’s Lakeside Resort.


After settling in, I went on my ceremonial picture-taking tour, this time in the company of one of my favorite animals (see picture to the right). This hostel cat, one of three domesticated animals at Little Morgan’s, resonating an aura of pure awesomeness and an unflappable persona, followed me around the hostel for no less than 15 minutes. We became bros and still keep in touch to this day.

The hostel’s layout was beautiful and organic, melding with the landscape, the abundance of banana trees and the overall natural habitat on Ometepe. We meandered individually along the pathways for a bit, exploring our surroundings and getting the lay of the land. M, C, A and I went for a dip in the lake, cutting and bruising ourselves in an attempt to get by the razor-sharp rocks lining the lake floor. And based on C’s tumble from an overturned tree in an attempt to bypass the feet-cutters, I would assume she still has her battle scars.

Mis companeras hanging out in the common area

C, M, me + our rock in Lake Nicaragua


After swimming, reading, and just plain hanging out doing a whole lot of nothing all day, we were ready to party. The quiet night at Zopilote was quiet enough for the whole trip, we decided, and the rum began to flow.

Enter stage right: dudes.

At this point I had been traveling for five days with four beautiful, wonderful women. As much as I love each and every one of mis companeras, I needed some interaction with a dude. Any dude. I didn’t even realize my desperate need for such interaction, such male bonding, until I had been sitting and talking with two guys, Shannon and Joe, for nearly an hour before I realized I was drunk. Frank discussion about sex, girls and booze sated my need for dude interaction and re-energized me for the rest of the trip.

I’m straight, by the way. Just in case you were wondering after that paragraph. Sometimes you just need a dude, ya know?

step forth into thy drunken haze

By this point the common area had quite the crowd. Whereas before the hostel had been quiet and reserved, emanating a pacific aura of zen-like peace, hostel-jumpers began crawling out of the woodwork and packing the place, ordering beer after beer and any combination of rum and mixer available. We all made friends with Shannon and Joe, and it turned out they had, just a week prior, come from the Poste Rojo Treehouse hostel the five of us had stayed at two nights before! Giddy as virgin school girls, we jibbered and jabbered all about the hostel, the owners, and the Full Moon party they have every . . . well . . . every full moon.

This hostel was really characterized for us by making new friends (sounds stupid, but blow me), and was my first thorough interaction with the hostel-jumping crowd. A few Americans, some bloody Brits, an Irishman (the owner) and two Australians made for a fun, diversified mix of people and one hell of a night.

This was also our first encounter with a little sickness, one of the perpetual fears when traveling in Central America. We’re still not sure what happened, but C came down with a stomach bug and left the party early to get some extra needed rest. After all, we were slated to leave Ometepe the following morning, and no one wants to be sick on the road.

During the short walk back to our dorm I noticed the first fireflies of the trip. They didn’t light up for as along as the ones in Northeast Ohio do, but they were no less majestic and laid upon the hostel in the darkness a welcoming atmosphere . . . right before the gigantic toad/frog nearly jumped onto my foot. Still can’t tell the difference between the two amphibians…

Netting over the beds was crucial

We laid down to enjoy another alcohol-induced night of sleep, the girls reveling in the resounding silence created by the lack of laser frogs they suffered through the night before.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 4


Awakened by the sibilant sounds of barking dogs, crowing roosters and howling monkeys is the only real way to do it in this country. Five a.m., on the dot, and the notorious howling monkeys reveal themselves, having invaded our alcohol-induced slumber with their insanely loud wake-up calls. Soft chuckles as we marvel at their brazenness. Well done, monkeys.

Hot, muggy, and a bevy of animal sounds seems to be the most organic way to greet a Nicaraguan sunrise. Shaking out our damp towels to unlatch any spiders or scorpions who did some latching in the night (there were none), we headed back up to the common area to close our tabs, grab some breakfast and bid adieu to the owners. We were sad to say goodbye to Chad, Rob and the de-virginized big red pole, but we had other places to see, volcanoes to explore and gringos to meet. I will say, though, that it’s hard to say goodbye to a hostel that, in the common area, bears this sign:

fuck more, bitch less

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 4
the road to ometepe

The hike back to the road was pretty similar to the hike in the opposite direction, except down. I prefer the climb. But, as the Buddhists preach, everything in moderation. So down we tumbled, bumbled, stumbled and grumbled, gazing at the sights as we emerged from the jungle.

It was a short walk to the bus stop a little ways down the main road, and a long drive to Rivas, the city that held our port that held our ferry that held our ticket to Ometepe Island, the next stop in our Nicaraguan adventure. The bus took us through lush farmland filled with fields of sugar cane and rice paddies. Sadly, however, our bus ride was not accompanied with a chicken this time around.

As we emerged from the bus we were set upon by a plethora of cabbies repeating “Taxi. Taxi.” over and over. Before we grabbed a cab, K, M and I wanted to grab some delicious street snacks. Everywhere we went in Nicaragua had streets lined with stalls filled with foodstuffs. Fried chicken, cheese and mystery ingredients wrapped in flour tortillas made up the majority of the offerings, intermingled with pastries and cookies. Everything smelled amazing and we still had a few hours before we made it to our hostel, so the three of us grabbed a quick bite. Fried chicken, I think it was, wrapped in a fried tortilla with a side of cabbage covered in hot sauce. A-mazing. Coupled with jugo de naranja, orange juice that is more like an orange Hi-C, but better, this made for an amazing quick fix to my hunger situation. This also happened to be my first encounter with water of questionable integrity. M warned me that the orange drink was made with water that may not be safe to drink, but I downed it in the first few minutes of the cab ride. To date, no ill effects.

Interesting sidenote: all the water and juice they sold on the street was sold in little plastic baggies, like sandwich bags, that you could either sip from a straw or squeeze directly from the bag. When it’s done, ya toss it on the side of the road like a normal Nicaraguan and go about your business.

el zopilote


Ferry to Ometepe - that's K, with the volcano Concepcion in the background

After a 1.5-hr uneventful ferry ride, and a 1-hr cab ride along pit-filled roads that did nothing for anybody’s hangovers, we made it to our next hostel – El Zopilote.

At this point I figured it was time for a shower. After four hours of traveling and two days of sweat and B.O. buildup, I definitely needed one. And there’s only one way to shower while hostel-jumping in Nicaragua: in freezing cold water. The entire two-and-a-half minutes I showered in the frigid water, I just kept telling myself “Don’t look down, don’t look down,” lest my pride and confidence be shattered completely.

Part of Zopilote

El Zopilote rests in a verdant part of Ometepe. Beautiful.

We settled down in our thatch-roofed hut complete with three bunks, a double bed and a hammock housing a quiet El Salvadorian. The hostel didn’t have any electricity, so we made sure to get situated in the daylight. And I made extra sure to lock up my bag – thanks to C’s lock, no more violations of my personal property occurred.

We were going to have to cook our own meals here, so we picked up a loaf of hard bread (one of those cool, old-school-looking round ones), spaghetti noodles and sauce for dinner, and then some eggs for breakfast. Cooking by candlelight in a crowded kitchen with other hostel-jumpers was a neat experience, and M whipped us up a delicious dinner we ate in the near darkness of the hostel’s common area.

This was our first night sans alcohol, which was strange to us, but it provided a much-needed respite from the nonstop moving and beverage imbibing we’d been doing for the past few days. So, once again, M, C, A and I engaged in another vicious round of euchre while K settled in with a book, both activities made possible via the efficient use of head lamps.

rain, rain, go away

That evening we discovered why they call the rainforest the rainforest. Cuz it rains. Hard.

Thanks, Ollie.

It rained off and on all night, switching between intense downpours and periods of resounding silence broken only by the sounds of laser frogs – the wacky amphibians actually sound like lasers! It was awesome.

As we laid down to bed, with visions, not of sugarplums, but of volcano-climbing dancing in our heads, we were a little worried Mother Nature would say “Screw you guys” and continue her downpour the following morning when we were scheduled to leave for a hike up a volcano. And as the rogue rain drop crawled through the thatch above to land unceremoniously on my chest, I did my bestย  not to worry and just sleep through the night.

Mission: unsuccessful.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 3


Coming to in a hammock at 6 a.m. with a killer headache and your back in shambles is not the ideal way to greet the sunrise. However, my circadian rhythm decided I had to be awake when the aftereffects of a night of drinking decided to tell my body to go to hell. But at 25 cordobas a beer, it’s a hard thing to say no to another drink (exchange rate is $1 = 22 cordobas). I’m sure doing those shots of Jameson didn’t help, but what else are you going to drink at the only Irish pub in Granada?

And then I remember what happened at that pub last night and my morale plummets even further through my clouded mind. We had a great time drinking with a few Australians and a South African, watching the rugby match between their native countries, when I opened my wallet to close my tab and realized I was missing money.

A lot of money.

I had left my bag unattended for a couple hours in our room at the hostel while we swam in the pool and hung out in the common room. And based on M’s explanation of cab kidnappings and robberies in the country, I suspect I was robbed by a Nicaraguan working at the hostel. Reason being – I wasn’t robbed blind.

A cab kidnapping occurs when someone (typically a foreigner) hops in an unmarked cab – something M told us never to do – and the driver takes you to the nearest ATM, pulls a blade and orders you to withdraw money. He then, obviously, relieves you of said money. But before driving off, the driver will actually leave you with enough cash (say, 30 cordobas) to get another cab so they don’t leave you stranded. Honor among thieves, I guess?

My own personal thief left me the equivalent of $25 while s/he helped him/herself to about $180.

And the only thing I could think the next day when I woke up, in regard to my world-traveling knowledge and prowess, the one thing that ran through my mind as I stumbled through my haze, eyesight fuzzy, from the uncomfortable hammock to my bed, was one word:


the nicaraguan chronicles – part 3
treetop flyer

After finally rising for the day four hours later, hangover surprisingly gone and vitality returned, the five of us headed back to Kathy’s Waffle House for breakfast. Another delicious serving of gallo pinto and eggs propelled us to the open-air market for a bit of browsing and shopping, preceded by a quick stop at the ATM to make up for my new-found lack of funds. We were all excited for the next stage in our journey that was to begin shortly: a one-night stay in the one, the only, the Treehouse Poste Rojo hostel.

We boarded the chicken bus around noon, discovering before long why this particular method of transportation bears the name of a farm animal. After about 15 minutes we arrived at our destination, an inconspicuous drive off the main road. M asked some locals if the hostel was nearby and they pointed us in the right direction. And we were off!

A beautiful hike through a bit of rolling farmland and Nicaraguans playing soccer and music with equal enthusiasm, under the cover of cascading storm clouds that never let loose, led us into the middle of the jungle. Hoping we were going in the right direction, we plodded on.

me, k, c and m

From left to right: me, K, C and M

The road to Poste Rojo

The hike to Poste Rojo










poste rojo – anybody home?

Greeted by the first signs for the hostel sent a sense of relief through the group (or me at least). Confident in our direction we hiked forward and up, climbing narrow man-made paths, stepping over trails of leafcutter ants, and (supposedly) under the watchful eyes of the notorious howling monkeys. We didn’t see any dang monkeys, but Nicaraguan workers for the hostel who came up after us said they were down at the bottom of the trail in the trees. Stupid monkeys. . . hidin from us and stuff. . . ruinin our Nicaraguan adventure.

Dang monkeys aside, we got to the hostel and were enthralled with the layout of the place. None of the gringo workers were present to start us a tab for our stay, and a couple Nicaraguans who were there informed us they would be back soon. We had the place to ourselves. Literally no one else was there. No fellow hostel-jumpers. No volunteers. So we did what any sane traveler would do – we explored that place from top to bottom.

This hostel was simply incredible. It was like a treehouse and playground for grown-ups. Complete with a rope bridge, winding jungle trails, ladders, a big red pole we raped later that night, a swing, a look-out post, hammocks, and alcohol. . . well, a guy can’t go wrong with a combination like that. Once our curiosity about the place was sated, C, A, M and I sat down to a rabid round of euchre while K settled herself in a hammock with a book. I popped the top on one of the victorias in the fridge (Nicaraguan beer) and we enjoyed our solitude for the next two hours before anybody showed up.

“you’re in the fuckin’ jungle, man”

We got the breakdown of how the hostel operates and a little history on the worker who greeted us at the end of those two hours. The worker, a native Canadian named Rob, told us that eight months ago he visited Nicaragua for two weeks on a whim, fell in love with the country and has been living there ever since. “It’s the most beautiful place on the planet, man.” And from the vista granted by Poste Rojo’s perfect placement, I can see why he would say that.

He gave us directions down to our dorms, a steeper grade, 500-foot descent, and warned us to beware of deadly coral snakes, poisonous spiders (the big ones), and poisonous scorpions (the small ones). One of the girls said, semi-incredulous, “Are you serious?” He laughs and says, “You’re in the fuckin’ jungle, man.”

Now, when a guy tells you to watch out for poisonous spiders, stinging scorpions and snakes that can kill you within hours of a bite, regarding a trail you’ve already climbed and now have to go back down, you quickly learn the legitimacy of the phrase “ignorance is bliss.”

jungle sunset = sweet

After a hesitant trip to the dorm and back to the common area, keeping our eyes peeled for anything that could murder us, we settle by the bar for the night and I’m suddenly no longer drinking alone. Listening to the consonance of Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor and Brett Dennen, we watched a beautiful sunset and let the rum and beer take us on one hell of a trip with the owner of the hostel, Chad, and Rob. For me, this was one of the most memorable nights of our 9-day stay in Nicaragua.


the nicaraguan chronicles – part 2


Waking up in a hostel somewhat akin to waking up in a freshman college dorm on a weekend. You say hello to everyone but stay noncommittal, maybe talking with those you know about how awesome last night was. In college it’s because you’re hungover, in a foreign hostel it’s because you don’t know more phrases than “Hola” and “Que Pasa?”, so either way interaction is limited. You gradually re-energize, and after a little while you’re planning what you’re going to do the rest of the day. In college you’re deciding whose party you’re going to crash, in the hostel what cities you’re going to explore. Either way, it’s a very laid back, very liberating feeling.

I guess it’s a good time to introduce my sisterhood of the traveling pants. Traveling with four young women around Nicaragua made for an interesting experience – namely in regard to every warm-blooded Nicaraguan man who ogled them, many whistling and cat-calling. So in that regard, not much different from stereotypical construction workers in the states.

First, we have M, the Peace Corps volunteer we were visiting. She’s our translator who made everything about this trip possible. Next we have A. This girl was the one who convinced me to take the plunge and embark on this adventure in the first place. Only took her about a year to convince me to go. The final two I had never met until the plane ride from Houston to Managua. Here we have C and K, both good friends with A, living the big city life in Manhattan, which I interpret as meaning they live like Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and and Phoebe. Foosball, sex, tumultuous relationships and coffee shops – all NYC has to offer ๐Ÿ™‚

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 2

A. leaving the hostel

A. leaving the hostel

Granada – not to be confused with Grenada, an island just north of South America – was our destination for our first full day in Nicaragua. Leaving the hostel, we got our first experience of Nicaragua in the daylight.

It’s a very neat-looking place, to put it simply. Except for all the bars and gates lining the sidewalks in front of every house (who needs ADT?), and except for the trash lining all the streets (who needs garbage cans?), the city was actually quite beautiful.

We found a cab nearby and took it to a bus stop to take us to Granada. I don’t mean to start off speaking poorly about Nicaraguans, but one could say the bus stop was our first impression of the people of the country, and it was…unique.

Ever see a kettle of vultures circling in the air, waiting for an animal to die so they could feast? No? Me neither. But you can picture it, because this is comparable to exiting the cab at the bus stop that morning. Literally as soon as we exit we are set upon by no less than three Nicaraguans trying to get us to take their company’s bus to Granada. Five gringos wearing packs was too juicy a target not to pounce, apparently.

M begins to talk to them, trying to determine fares, when two of the guys from opposing companies start shoving each other. This was obviously an old rivalry. They were shouting at each other while M was doing her best to talk to one or the other, but they seemed to be more obsessed with throwing a block-out than with getting us to ride their bus. I was dumbfounded. Then one of the guys grabbed M’s arm and tried to pull her toward his bus and we both got pissed. I stepped in and started shoving the guy away, repeating “No! No!”, while M decided we would be going with the bus that didn’t molest potential customers.

better first impressions

After about an hour-and-a-half bus ride – which could have been cut in half if we hadn’t slowed down for every single group of people on the side of the road to see if they wanted a ride – we arrived at the energetic city of Granada.

First impression of the city: colorful.

Nicaraguans love their pastels, and I have to say I love the aura it placed on the city. Gave it a nice upbeat feel. Yellow and lime green splashed with pink and sky blue, all framed by bright white frames and railings, adorned with a myriad of vases and flowerpots. One of the tiny storefronts blared music loud enough to be heard from one end of a main thoroughfare to the other. But don’t worry, if we got out of range of that speaker, a truck would drive by with another equally loud speaker tied to its bed, with either music or advertisements threatening to disrupt the functionality of our eardrums.

Granada streetBeggars and hawkers hounded our every step, asking for money or crying their wares respectively. But they were easily put off with a simple “No” and waggle of the finger, a trick Mary taught us at which we all became very proficient. Only a few of them were truly persistent, for which we were thankful. All in all, the city was beautifully and strangely fascinating and served as our first true introduction to Nicaragua.

M told us it was a nice “transition city” for tourists. For a few reasons, one of them being the picture below.

Kathy's Waffle House

Yup, we went here


Opened by an American, Kathy’s Waffle House provided a nice amalgamation of Americanized Nicaraguan dishes. The typical breakfast served, aside from waffles, was made up of eggs, gallo pinto, and a fried block of cheese doused in vinegar. Gallo pinto was a continual theme throughout the trip, as it is typically served with breakfast dishes that you can get at nearly any restaurant. Muy delicioso!

las isletas

While Granada was entertaining, lively, and visually stimulating, my favorite part of the city was the tour we took of Las Isletas de Granada – the little islands of Granada. Las isletas are made up of 365 small islands on Lake Nicaragua right off the coast of Granada.



They were formed when Mombacho, pictured here, exploded out over the lake, creating hundreds of tiny islands that would later become exotic habitats for birds, spider monkeys, dirty hostel-jumpers and the inordinately wealthy (i.e. the one percent).

One of the islands hosted a bar and pleasant hang-out spot where we did just that, grabbing drinks for ourselves and our pilot. An interesting thing to note is that the lion’s share of the crowd here was made up of gringos. We met and chatted with a couple guys from New Zealand as we pet a parrot, hoping he wouldn’t bite us. C wasn’t quite so lucky during her misadventure in petting the parrot – no drawn blood, just a mark and quick escalation in heart rate.


tiny island

This is how tiny the tiny islands are

island with house.








We got another taste of Nicaraguan culture during the boat ride. In the middle of the tour our pilot, a friendly gentleman who gave us very thorough information on the islands, turned the engine off to answer his cell phone. We smiled at each other in quiet disbelief while we idled in the murky shallows and M explained to us how Nicaraguans treat cell phones. They answer them all the time. All. The. Time. No matter where they are – at church, at the movies, during meals. Something that is considered beyond rude in Western culture is accepted as a simple aspect of daily life in Nicaragua. Aside from wanting to toss the pilot in the water and get the boat moving again myself, I was fascinated by yet another stark difference in culture.

Little did I know that later that night I would be subjected to another aspect of Nicaraguan culture – one I would not find quite so fascinating.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 1


“How do you tell him to turn left? What’s left?”


“Izquierda,” I say, feeling the word out. “And right?”



“No. DerechA,” she says, emphasizing the “a.”


The cab runs another red light.

I’ve been in the country fifteen minutes and already I can feel my high school Spanish classes reasserting themselves in the left hemisphere of my brain. Not fluently, by any means, but I at least remember the word for pants is pantalones.

At that point I’m just glad to be in the country, out of an airport and a mere ten minutes from the hostel we were going to be staying at our first night. It had been a long trip.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 1
planes, trains and automobiles

Whoever characterized trains as rocking and swaying as they glide down railroad tracks is a crock of shit. There is no graceful glide, no gentle rocking motion as the sleeping car takes you inexorably toward your destination. An Amtrak train ride to Chicago consists of nine hours of fits and starts so strong you wonder which motion is going to be the one that causes Amtrak’s PR nightmare. These are then interspersed with short, delusional instances of what some fantasize to be smooth riding, but even during this portion of the trip, the train’s overzealous air conditioning attempts to give you frostbite on whatever pieces of skin you were foolish enough to leave bare. As the goosebumps climb up your arms and a shiver accidentally wakes the stranger next to you listing toward your shoulder, you wonder again why you didn’t just take the Kia.

Every time you close your eyes and attempt to fall asleep in a vain hope that the time will wink by, the glow of orange streetlights shine through the crack in the curtain with an unforgiving impunity not seen since the Third Reich. You think to yourself how pleasant it would be if the guy behind you (who’s controlling the other half of the curtain that’s not closed) were to suffer a sudden, intense aneurysm – you convince yourself you want him to go peacefully to assuage your guilt, when the truth is that you don’t want death throes simply so people won’t notice. But if that guy was gone, you might then be able to reach into his 2’x2′ bubble and draw the rest of the curtain closed, triumphantly eliminating the gap between the edge of your curtain and your headrest.

If only.

It’s at some point between the perilously leaning seatmate and the ideally dead guy behind you that you realize the train isn’t riding the rails any faster than your car would roll the pavement…and the Wild West fantasies begin…

I’m sitting astride my horse on a distant hilltop a few miles down the tracks, cowboy hat fitting me better than it ever fit John Wayne, six-shooters on my hips and my comedy-relief sidekick at my…well, my side of course. The train’s a’closin’ in at full blast (35 mph, my present self thinks sardonically), black smoke pouring from the stack and horn blasting louder than the hells o’ tarnation. I don’t even know what that means.

I look at my wily sidekick – Krusty Four-Finger I just named him, because he had a finger blown off in the Civil War at the battle of Antietam . . . I look over at my wily sidekick and we exchange a silent nod. That’s the universal signal for “Let’s do this.” Wrapping a red bandana around the lower half of my suddenly frighteningly handsome movie-star face, I kick my spurs into the horse’s flanks and tear down the hillside, kicking up dust as I unleash a rebel yell that would have put the most fearsome Confederate soldier to shame.

Within seconds (I skip the boring parts), I’m riding hard alongside the train, six-shooter in one hand, reins in the other, shouting “Ya! Ya!” so my horse will go faster. A few mean-faced, black-suited Pinkerton men start shooting at me from the top of a train car. Me and Krusty gun ’em down with just a couple shots and watch as they ceremoniously tumble off the train. One guy even falls between the cars and gets railed.

Chuckling at my own clever choice of words, I holster my sidearms and hop up to squat on the saddle. Demonstrating the grace and agility that comes with a lifetime of pulling stunts like this, I leap toward the train car railing, reaching, reaching, not quite sure I’m going to make it when suddenly –

A cell phone rings in the seat across the aisle, startling the leaner next to you who jars you with an elbow. A baby starts crying.

Should have taken the damn Kia.

continental with the save

But then you get to Chicago, you get on the plane that’s going to take you to Nicaragua, and you remember why you love to travel. At least, if you have a window seat you remember. The crying babies and sub-zero temperatures on the train seem inconsequential when you’re soaring 30,000 feet in the air, looking down on brilliant white patches of cloud and the blue that is the ocean churning and foaming in the Gulf of Mexico.

And then…the wild blue yonder. No beginning. No end. Just a beautiful endlessness unmatched save for outer space and the flatlands of Texas on a clear day.

final destination…minus all the dying

The first thing I notice upon exiting the airport is the smell. It reminds me of the Deep South. There’s a wholesomeness to the aroma that you don’t find in the suburbia that is Northeast Ohio. Until we walked to the street, that is. I found out the hard way that Nicaraguans burn their trash, even in the middle of Managua, the capital, even at 10 p.m. Although the stench really isn’t all that bad after a few minutes. You get used to it.

One of the most impressionable aspects of Managua was that everybody was outside. Everybody. Sitting in cheap plastic chairs or whatever they could find outside bars, restaurants and homes, talking and listening to music. They stared at us through the cab windows with gazes that shouted “Tourist!” Me, sitting there in my American Honey T-shirt, just trying to read the road signs and jog my memory, re-learning Spanish one word or phrase at a time.

  • Izquierda – left
  • Derecha – right
  • Cenicero – ashtray
  • Cuidado! Piso mojado – Caution! Wet Floor
  • Estos son mis companeras – these are my women (or some variation)

I was going to be traveling with four women for nine days. I needed to learn how to say they were mine in case I had to step in and save them from overly interested Nicaraguan men.

We find the hostel, put our stuff away and do what any Ohio University graduate does when they first enter a new country: we go to the bar.