The saying is that time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve discovered over the span of this lengthy adventure that time goes excruciatingly slow when you’re sick and really, really not having fun.  Minutes seem like hours, hours like days, and days like months. These are all crude sentiments and, of course, far from definitive fact. Yet, axioms such as these are useful for describing my bill of health currently.  The present case, if one takes my previous statements as fact, deviates far from the norm: The past 72 hours could fill an eternity with how slowly time has crept by – an eternity stuck in the fiery pits of hell with one of Satan’s minions planted inside my belly and starting a rave with the rest of his crew. All of this misery could have been avoided, rather easily in fact, if I were not so willing to take people for their word. For example, I normally believe someone will tell me the truth when I ask a question of grave importance. When traveling in less developed places, say Nicaragua, an inquiring foreigner would consider it essential to know whether the local water was safe to drink. To the local, however, their response can be influenced by different standards for evaluating potability, something one will only find out the hard way. It turns out that the ¨cleanest water in Nicaragua¨ that, apparently, is found in Leon does not come remotely close to what would be quality drinking water in the United States. I know this, without a doubt, because my body has been paying the price ever since I gulped down a glass under the advice of the matriarch of my present abode. It´s ugly….and painful, but what keeps me going is knowing that it’s only part of the big adventure. Next time I won’t be so foolish, and like always the best thing to do is learn from the mistake to ensure that it doesn’t happen again – something that my recuperating process allows a lot of time for.

The above discussion brings me to my next point: I have developed some interesting rules while on the road since the onset of my cross continent trek. Each is unique to the traveler, but could be useful to some of those who follow along. Here’s a taste of a few:

1. Open mindness, like in any other scenario, is key. Would I have expected to climb down mine shafts in Bolivia before I set off from Argentina or Anaconda hunting in the Amazon Basin? Hell no, it’s inconceivable and absolutely foolish.  Would I choose to do so if the opportunity ever presented itself? Hell yes, and I sure did. With these experiences under my belt, I can say two things that I did not have the liberty to say before: 1. That no matter how bad I have it nor how miserable I may consider my life or job to be, it could never compare to the level of suffering that a mine worker in Bolivia experiences on a daily basis, and 2. Hunting for Anacondas in the Amazon Basin may go down as the dumbest and most dangerous thing I have ever done in my life, something I never expect to repeat unless by force or need for survival. Each of these experiences has augmented my perspective beyond what it was before and aided in the learning process of life, something which I regard as beneficial to myself and all people I will come in contact with in the future. I began this trip open for doing whatever, with no tangible plan or course of action, and it has landed me in various scenarios that have tested my character and improved my person. Being open to the opportunity, therefore, has limitless possibilities for an individual that is willing to seize it when available and whose benefits are infinite. Risk/Reward is the only basis for evaluation, with the rewards nearly always outweighing the risks involved and springing one into action rather than sitting on the sidelines.

2. Where ever you go, whatever country you are in, make sure that you bring toilet paper. This is no joke. I am being serious, deadly serious. I actually cannot express how serious I am being over the internet. You should see my face right now: It tells the tale of hardship and suffering from someone that didn’t have toilet paper once. It’s kinda funny, but kinda not. Here is why: I cannot count the number of times where either the restroom didn’t have any (they were ¨out¨) or they charged some absurd fee to get some (and I had no cash). Better yet, how bout taking a 18 hour bus ride where you are only allowed to urinate onboard and there hasn’t been toilet paper provided ever since the route was established? Or the bathroom door is locked permanently and you have to ask the driver to pull over to the side of the road to alleviate the pain, only to realize you don’t have toilet paper? These are situations that you DO NOT want to find yourself stuck in. Considering the shape your bowels are in with all the unsanitary food you are likely to eat, a roll of Downy is just a smart and safe option. Plus, even if you don’t need it, one of your friends will and you will look like a hero in their eyes – which is always a plus and builds commraderie amongst your fellow travelers.

3. Street food is where it’s at. I know that this one seems counterintuitive when contrasted with Rule 2 and my lovely descriptions of various illnesses throughout the course of my journey, but bear with me for a second and think of Rule 1. Any traveler, going anywhere in the world, can sit in fine restaurants and savor the flavor of a gourmet cook who caters to their every need. In fact, you can go to a country and never sample the local fare if that was something you desired. The amount of foreign food flooding the global marketplace is wonderful for when you live in one place, but when on the road the best way to eat is amongst the local street vendors in their neighborhoods as they toil from sunrise to sunset to bring money home for their families. Without a doubt you will encounter some unsanitory or ill prepared meals every now and then if you follow this advice, but in between those disasterous occurances some of the most succulent and spectacular meals will be presented before you. This is the type of food you will never come across again in your lifetime, the type of food that is a person’s life work (I asked a women the other day where she learned to cook so well, and she replied ¨At birth¨), and the type of food that will bring you closer to the people of the country and who make it. You don´t even know what it is half of the time, but when it hit your lips it puts any doubt out of mind: totally delicious and worth the danger. I would classify this as moderate risk, high reward  – odds that I am willing to take any day of the week.

4. About 99.999% of the time someone is trying to rip you off, so plan accordingly. It’s pretty obvious that you’re a foreigner when all of the town’s inhabitants are around 4 and a half feet tall with very dark complexion. Plus, you’re carrying a backpack that is equivalent to their size and probably weighs more than they do. With your stature and clothing adding to the glaring differences, expect to be the recipient of ALOT of attention. Sometimes you will be stopped and asked to take a photo with someone, other times you will be walked passed and giggled at, or better yet you will be receive the occassional invitations to a fiesta or nightclub. These situations, I would say, would classify as positives and, of course, with those positives come the negatives.  Without a doubt, you will ALWAYS be targeted for money and stereotyped as one who is prepared to spend exorbant amounts of cash solely because you are a traveler. Travelers vary in degrees, and the backpacker is much different than, let’s say, the Smith family travling from Texas to explore the resorts of Costa Rica (yet, truthfully, both will make in a month what a family in Nicaragua aspires to make in a year). The Smith family may be prepared to spend some extra cash, but the backpacker cannot afford to be irresponsible with his finances (especially when on a tight budget). As a general rule, vendors will mark up their products two to three times their ordinary market value whenever approached by a foreigner. This tendency took a while to pick up on, meaning that I suffered from some serious rip offs on the beginning of my trip, but can be countered if you follow my advice: No matter what price the vendor may ask for, say that you will give them half the amount and negociate from there. If you don’t speak the language, take the calculator that is usually laying alongside their stand and type in what you think is a fair price. Bust out the pen and paper if there is no calculater, and if no pen and paper then makes signs in the air or count off with your fingers to get the point across. There has NEVER, EVER been a situation where the price was, in the least, able to be reduced by twenty to fifty percent. This excludes food, however, which is always non-negociable and a fixed, fair price.

5. Pepto Bismol is worth its weight in gold. Or should I say pure maple syrup, as it (and not gold) is the most expensive product per fluid ounce in the world? Either way, my point is this: With all the choas that is likely to go on in your stomach, Pepto Bismol will quickly become your best friend. More reliable than any other sketchy pharmaceutical product offered in South and Central America, it’s a great choice for combatting the side effects of funky food or poorly filtrated water. It is also likely to be your only option. After my work in Central America is done, I am thinking of introducing a new weight loss treatment to the US: The Pepto Bismol diet. The best part is that the entire process is so simple, Step 1: Ingest some strange food or liquid that destroys your insides, Step 2: Drink a bottle of Pepto Bismol a day for three days, complimented with tiny portions of rice or a gallon of water, Step 3: Repeat Step 2 until insides are returned to their normal state or double the amount of Pepto Bismol if need be and keep rice/water intake constant. The results are phenomenal: You are guarenteed to lose anywhere from 3 to 10 pounds in a week! It may not be the most, what’s the word here, safe or FDA approved way to go about shedding some excess weight, but boy is it effective.

6. Things will go wrong, just deal with it and move on. The bus will always be late, or may not even show up. There is a 30 percent chance that it will break down on the way so don’t get your hopes up when it does arrive on time. The guide to your tour doesn’t show up and the group can’t go on the expedition till the following day, or the next couple of days, or the next week, or not at all. Odds are that you are likely to get robbed at least once, and will for sure get sick somewhere along the way. These bad things happen, but like in all of life the most important aspect is how you react to the unfortunate circumstances that you may find yourself in. Sure, you can get bumbed out and frustrated when things start going wrong and Lady Luck is no where to be found: Getting stranded in some little village in the middle of a massive rain storm without your rain gear is definitely not fun. It’s not one of those days that you dreamed of long before the trip began, but when you’re outside of the dream world and in the real world these sorts of things are likely to happen ALL THE TIME. You cannot prepare for them. All you can do is take them in stride, change the gameplan (if there was one in the first place) and make some good out of the bad. If you don’t, soon enough your trip will be consumed by awful moments like these rather than the special ones that truly define it. Your mentality, and capability, when dealing with negative parts of travel and the chaos that surrounds it is the only factor in whether you will have a good, life changing experience or go mad from the troubles that you are bound to encounter in countries consumed by troubles that heavily outweight your own. Remember this: You define the situation, the situation does not define you.

7. Become a master of spending free, unstructered time. There is going to be alot of time spent waiting around if you are traveling for an extended period of time. South and Central Americans are not known to be in any sort of hurry when it comes to getting things done, and this holds more truth than you could ever imagine. Getting coffee in a cafe can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, and this does not include the high probability that your order was never even placed with the kitchen. Getting your change will take longer than the amount of time it took to get the coffee. The buses will be late. The bus rides will always take longer than expected. Etc. Etc.  These examples are only a few of the many that will arise on a lengthy journey, so the best thing to do is be prepared to pass this free time doing something you enjoy or that can keep your mind occupied. I think I have read somewhere in the ballpark of twenty books since the beginning of my journey. I learned how to complete a Rubix cube. I write in not one but two journals. None of these things would be the focus of my time if I were back in a structured environment or in the States, but as it is I have to be doing something when nothing is on an ordinary schedule and everything takes longer to accomplish than you expect. It’s part of the road, something you need to get used to before it becomes absolutely maddening: Learning to maximize this time while it is available to you is far better than letting it go to waste.

So, those are some of the rules that I have been abiding since my trip began and they have proven to be extremely helpful time and time again. There are more, but I am still trying to define them in a clear and concise manner. For now, these ones will have to do. If my bit of knowledge can go on and help someone as much as it helped me, then these rules of the road will prove a success. I can only speak from experience, but they have done wonders with the numerous challenges I have experienced while venturing through South and Central America.

A little bit of information on where I am presently. I am still in Lèon. I think it has been a week today since I first arrived. The city is great. the people extremely friendly, the architecture beautiful, the churches fantastic, and the market place huge and always bubbling with action. It satisfies nearly every category of what I look for in a great city, so it was not too difficult to stick around for a while. I have been busy in the meantime, getting to know some of the Nicaragua’s history and also trying to pull my body back into order to I get set off for the next part of my trip. From here, as I continue to inch closer to the border of Honduras, I am going to spend a bit of time in the coffee country of northern Nicaragua. A few small cities – Esteli, Matagalpa, and Jinoteca – are all regarded as the nicest mountainous areas in the country and also supply it with some of the finest café in the world. Seeing as I like coffee and mountains, it only makes sense that I should be heading in that direction. I was planning to head off today, but seeing as it just started to torrential downpour I may be holding off for one more evening.  Until my next post, adios amigos.

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