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Some people can live a lifetime in a single moment. These moments come sparingly, but when they do each tends to blow us away and loathing to return to our normal existence. When stringed together in succession, these moments have the potential to change our lives completely.  It seems in Nicaragua that miraculous events, especially in succession, happen more often than anywhere else on the planet.  One day, if you find yourself in the right place at the right time, can change everything.

There’s something magical about evening time in rural areas of Nicaragua. During the day, the pace is slow and unsurprising: unruly heat takes over, the streets are practically empty as people´s efforts are geared towards escaping the sun (except for those selling ice cream who are never given a moment’s rest), which leaves most of the action taking place under a canopy in some far off location of a remote village. For this reason, the sheltered marketplaces are ripe with activity during the day while everywhere else in town is desolate: They are covered areas, hidden from the afternoon sun, yet bustling with activity and hoards of interesting people that are driven to make a sale. But as the sun goes down, the temperature begins to cool, and shelter becomes a secondary preference to the great outdoors. Kids begin playing soccer in the street with ruthless slide tackles and fancy tricks to counteract their rugged gameplay, the only group of men over 5´10 are found on the dilapidated basketball court whose rims are originals from the 1970’s NBA All Star game and as crooked as the government, the center park becomes filled with elderly couples holding hands and passing by the beautifully colored flowers as the stars inch closer and closer into view. All of it is a sight to behold; a transition that occurs so subtly it could easily go unnoticed, but for those with watchful eyes the circle of daily life in Central America unfolds on the backdrop of a setting sun and bright, smiling faces.

Each place and each person you encounter on the road is different from the next. This is true in numerous capacities, but especially true when traveling about and experiencing a wide variety of lifestyles, personalities, and cultures over such a huge amount of land. For as similar as some cities may be or some people may act, if you dig deep enough you will find a characteristic that separates them from anything else that exists in the world:  Each person has their story, their hardship and similarly each place has their history, their turmoil. At times it appears to blend together to form a holistic tale of poverty, struggle, and endurance that encompasses the entire region, but always one stands apart from the next – leaving an impression so strong and profound on your mind that it cannot be replaced regardless of how great the similarities may appear to be.

A little bit of luck and a fortune landed me in a lovely village in the Northwest corner of Nicaragua, known as Somoto. A whimsical desire to do some exploring and the need to get my most valuable possession fixed (my camera) placed me inside a random electronic store in Leon chatting with a local about where I have been, my plans for the future (¨Ahhh, plans…..? I stopped making those a long time ago¨), and what else I was going to do in Nicaragua. As the young, enthusiastic kid riffled through my photos and was intrigued by what was on the memory card, he suggested that the absolute ¨best¨ place for photos in the country was in the Grand Canyon of Somoto and that I had to go there. It took all of 3 seconds to decide that I would, and over the next week I planned out how to go about arriving at a destination that I had never heard of nor knew anything about. Getting there wasn’t an a miraculous feat, the miracles occurred once I got there.

At first glance, Somoto was far from spectacular: a very small, inactive village that boasts a population of some 10 to 15,000 and streets that can be numbered on two hands. As with all the more northern areas of the country, it is notorious for farmland, ranches, cattle, and what would be a living replica of the ¨Wild West¨: cowboy hats, rancheros, denim, spurs attached to custom fitted leather boots, more leather products – the usual themes of a spaghetti Western. Also associated with northern parts of the country is excessive heat, which means that the town is not very active nor the people mobile during the day. So, when arriving off a bus amidst at high noon, the absence of commotion is the onely welcome one will receive aside from the blank stares of the locals scampering off into the city in search of shade. The place was dead, with the only movement being the wheels of the bus pulling out of town and the dirt it kicked up behind.

My initial doubts about  Somoto were quickly overtaken by the necessity to find accommodation. I scrambled around the town, looking down every alleyway and side street to locate the finest family establishment that was not overrun with tourists and would coincide with my ever dwindling budget. In my search, fortunately, I was not alone: There also happened to be a group of four Nicaraguan brothers that had traveled north from Granada to sell various car parts, who were also limited in their selection and on the prowl for something that could suit all of their interests. With our forces united, the party zealously scoured the streets until fate landed us in the arms of a lovely Grandmother whose house doubled as a hostel for Nicaraguans and others who may be passing through. An invaluable opportunity, one that could not go by without being seized, placed me in her family’s care for the next few nights in Somoto and on the streets playing futsol with her grandson as darkness was beginning to overpower the daylight.

Granted that my room was the size of a small closet, the impetus to venture out into town was stronger than ever and left no reason to remain in what could be equated to a windowless prison cell. It was nothing that I could not handle nor would it be out of the ordinary by this point, but this is not the type of place where one spends much time other than by force. Plus, a rumbling stomach and the need to quell its screams for food led me wondering about, asking the people who began to fill the streets about the best spots for local fare. And from here, the story begins.

I walk into a restaurant that hugs the side of the main highway, to be greeted by a large gentleman with a smirk on his face, booming voice, and a vivacious personality that extends a grand welcome to all who venture into his realm. To the individual who was not on the lookout or did not happen to be informed by some random, partially intoxicated man on the corner, the place could have been passed over without a second glance: A dimly lit shanty, held together by simple wood boards and a little bit of wire, all centered around a charcoal grill that fires out the “daily” specials, which appear to be chicken, beef, or pork regardless of the day. For as little as it may be, the restaurant has a homely feel and screams personality. It is the sort of place that you are drawn to by pure intrigue, glancing inside and catching the happy faces, hearty meals, and enthusiastic conversation that are all illuminated by candlelight, even though there isn’t much there aside from a few tables and chairs. The waving arms and wide brimmed smile of the makeshift doorman further enchant the onlooker, and soon one is moving from outside to inside with as if a gentle force is propelling him forward whether it be by desire, necessity, or force.

The lonely evening meal has become a staple in my daily routine. I’ve been traveling solo for some time now, some 4 or so months, and with each day I tend to move further away from the crowd rather than going with it. The experience is much more authentic, the interactions are genuine, and the conversations raw. This desire has placed me in various scenarios where I am the only foreigner amongst a plethora of natives, being questioned on a variety of topics that relate to foreign diplomacy, the “new” America and Barrack Obama, the struggles of the local businesses and farmers, widespread corruption amongst government officials, and many other heavily weighted subjects that could churn the weak of stomach. Even though I enter alone, I find myself surrounded by many individuals interested in my story and also willing to share theirs, which provides all the company one may need when attempting to expose himself to the true essence of life in South and Central America.

Sitting down with food on my mind, a signal was given by the man who lured me inside to check out the grill and see what was being served. The grill master, Juan, was awaiting my arrival and ambitious to demonstrate his mastery over fire, poultry, pig, and cow that he had acquired over the past few months since his older brother, Walton, needed some surgery that prevented him from work. It turns out the lively fellow from the door, now responsible for the cash box duties, is Walton. A few laughs between Juan and I erupted as some sides were meticulously selected to accompany the helping of slow grilled pork, then conversation began to flow freely between the two brothers as the pipping hot food was served. Walton began throwing out a few of the random English words he knew how to use, mostly profanities or introductory sentences that pertained to the restaurant business, asking for assistance in pronunciation and maybe even a few pieces of vocabulary that could expand his base further. Juan, or “Juancito” as his older and much larger brother called him, would interject ever so often with a criticism or sarcastic comment that would send his elder into a spiral of laughter and fury; eyes lighting up and a smile broadening that spoke volumes into the man’s gentle, personable nature and the compassionate love he had for his brother. The two appeared to be excited about something, something that I had not ascertained before I arrived, but that was slowly becoming more visible as they downed shots of rum: It was Friday night and, most importantly, there was a religious celebration that would last all weekend. This meant it was time for celebration, a celebration where everyone was welcome and needed to participate.

Against the grain which I had followed for so long, I decided to appease their demands and have a glass of rum on the house. Well, one drink turned to two or three over the course of a few hours, and their riotous interactions continued to provide thorough entertainment as the evening ebbed further into the dark night. Yet between the bubbling conversation and the alcohol that was being consumed, a picture of my companions became more clear: They were brothers, two of three, that worked in the restaurant that their mother started 10 years back and were now responsible for its welfare. Their tasks included everything, from rising early in the morning and preparing the food to staying late and closing up shop, and representative of a typical day for the hardworking individuals that fill Central America; starting before the sun rises and returning after it sets, enjoying every moment in between and being content with the little you are fortunate to have. It is hard not to be impressed with such individuals, Juan and Wilton being no exception, and to enjoy their company while it is around. One looses track of time and all superficial matters when surrounded by these special people, becoming fully engrossed in the moment and only cognizant of fact that it may never return again.

The reality is that the restaurant had to close at some time, the party had to end, and both of these were rapidly approaching. I lent the guys a hand closing up shop; placing boards to cover the windows, pulling out light bulbs that lit the doorways, counting the money that was earned throughout the day, hammering nails into the door to increase security, and stowing away the extra food that would be sold in the morning. The night had passed the climax, and although I was upset to see it go, the thought of sleep was growing more attractive as my eyes longed to rest. Apparently, Juan and Wilton did not share the same sentiments: Their night was just beginning, and I was obligated to participate with these pilgrims on their voyage into the the town’s square. So we embarked up the hill that led to the center of the village, where their mother had a smaller stand that was catering to the demands of people as they continued to celebrate, with a car full of supplies and a driver who in any more developed country would be arrested for drunk driving. Dangerous, surely, but the 3 minute journey cruising at 15mph ensured that we arrived at our destination safely.

The vacant streets that were suffocated by sunlight and heat were now filled with activity and the evening’s cooling air. The full moon and twinkling stars acted as a spot light for the show that was taking place down below, where hundreds of cowboys and their families were enjoying the night to the sweet lull of music playing in the background. Each person in attendance was absorbed by the moment, lost amongst the chatter, laughter, and dancing that was all around and had spread to every corner. The occasional howl would erupt from a group of gentlemen posted close by with a table of beers before them, whose main objective at present was to sway one of the younger ladies towards the table. Their attempts, it would seem, bore no fruit. In the meantime, Juan and Wilton led the way towards their mother’s tent, a place encircled by eager patrons looking for a wholesome meal and a comfortable place to rest their weary legs from a long day’s work or too much dance. Introductions with family members took place in rapid succession under the onrush of a famished customers, which placed the three amigos in a table placed effectively away from the commotion but in the nearby vicinity to watch the action. Then, the feast began: platter followed by platter of home cooked food being shipped over to our table, fresh off the grill, and a healthy mix of all the best Nicaraguan cuisine. Beverages were flowing just as freely, a combination of blends and juices that are more exotic than the fruit from which they were made, and that perfectly complimented the fresh food that was being served. Numerous family members came over to share a joke or a beer, before returning to their work station or into the crowd that had formed in the street. The group was in pairs, previously coupled off, and now slowly dancing with one another to the sound of a older man’s guitar as he strummed some gentle, latin rhythms. Their movement an achievement of harmony, albeit few pairs seemed more intoxicated or aggressive than others, like a field of hay that sways with the wind and completes the foreground of a beautiful, mountainous countryside.

Wilton was wearing out fast because his children had come by and were refusing to leave his side. Juan was distracted by text messages from his girlfriend about where he was going this evening. The conversation with the other locals in our company were becoming more and more vague, as their level of intoxication increased and mine was on the steady decline. It was time for bed. So I went off, saying goodbye to my companions and promising to stop by again tomorrow, and fell asleep sorting through memories of the night’s affairs.

The first twelve hours in Somoto passed by with a bang and were far greater than expected, with the only difficulty being the struggle to get up early and head into the Canyon at a reasonable hour the next day. The journey was simple enough: A bus ride ten miles out of town, then walk up a path into the canyon where trails would lead to various locations that would be easily accessible. Turns out that a school bus is responsible for carrying passengers to the Honduran boarder and also passes the entrance every hour for anyone willing to pay the $1 to get onboard. Done. A more substantial hindrance is something along the lines of a raging river that greets the individual who follows the footpath from the entrance to its end. This is no small creek or feeble tributary, we are talking about a water formation that has carved through rock over the past 10,000 years, filled with rapids and tumbling rocks, and crested with white caps. To access the Canyon one must cross this river, by foot with water resting chest high, until reaching the safety of land on the opposite side. Several families are sitting along the shoreline, cleaning clothes or bathing, all the while enjoying the spectacle that occurs right before them as those brave souls inch across the rugged terrain that is covered by three feet of rushing water. Some slip, others come close to falling, but all regain their balance quickly enough before the river whisks them off their feet entirely and shoots them downstream into rocks the size of small hills. This area represents a wider opening in the narrow slit of river that penetrates the valley, where the water moves at a slightly slower pace than it does further upstream and the grasp of the limestone cliffs has loosened a hundredfold. Slightly intimidating, but with an entourage of locals going in front and a few trailing behind, the journey across isn’t as difficult as it appeared to be on the sidelines. If it were done alone, however, by one with zero experience in high speed river crossings the tale may be much different than the story I am relating today. A slight misstep and a few broken bones may be the least of your problems.

With obstacle #1 accomplished, I head uphill to catch a glimpse of the Canyon from above. The only downside is that after hiking for around 30 minutes, the view from the top is unimpressive and does not counterbalance the effort it took getting there: The Grand Canyon of Somoto is not as “grand” as I had expected. There is beautiful green hillsides surrounding the steep cliffs and finely shaped rocks that cast shade over the foamy grey river, but I was led to believe it was something mind blowing. I quickly began to think that I must had erred in some way, that this could not be the splendid Canyon which was boasted by my friend in Leon, and concluded to question a nearby Nicaraguan as I fought a battle against disappointment. Fate, and a some luck, led me into a conversation with a local kid named Noel, who happened to be a native of the area and knew a bit more than most guides. Noel began to rifle off information about the Canyon, saying that the most astounding views required one to hike through some dense vegetation until arriving to an viewpoint where two rivers intersected. He described it as the best anyone could ask for, offering to show me the way for $5 and a place to store my bad in the meantime. I figured since I had made it all the way up here to see this “grand” Canyon, why not go a little further and see all it had to offer.

The decision to venture off with Noel was one whose greatness was comparable to that of entering Wilton and Juan’s family restaurant the night before. Chance placed me into the hands of an individual that could have been an ambassador for all of Central America: An astute, ambitious character that had so little by objective standards, doing a honest day’s work to support his family, but content with a life that contained more difficulty than an outsider could ever imagine. As we skipped stones across the river and discussed the course of action for the afternoon, our personalities began to mesh and he informed of how his day had been going so far. It turned out that Noel had been occupied in the morning with a couple of El Salvadorians, who needed some assistance in climbing to the previous viewpoint, and was now taking me along the hardest route in the entire Canyon. This back to back performance didn’t bother him in the slightest, for it was a trail that he had treaded many times with his relatives and was very close to where they all lived, and would be normal compared to his daily routine. In fact, after finishing our escapade through the mountains and down the river, he planned to return to the entrance and secure another oblivious foreigner that was passing through in order to bring some more money home for his family. Business in these parts is sporadic, meaning that sometimes it may be weeks before someone else comes along that needs a makeshift guide. Times are tight and whatever money was available he is eager to get it, with today being a standard day in the life of Noel.

Things started off interestingly when a decision needed to be made between either a tube or a lifejacket after arriving at his family’s home. Outside this humble dwelling, which appeared more like a makeshift shack than anything suitable for 7 people to live in, scattered about the dusty floor was a selection of floatable devices. In Noel’s hands were a brightly colored lifejacket suited for a child and an inner tube that was eerily similar to a tire from a 16 wheeler. He told me to choose. Baffled, and unaware for what purpose I would be using either of these objects, I decided that the lifejacket would be the most prudent. If we were going into a river, I could always fall off the tube and drown but the lifejacket was designed to keep me afloat no matter how dire the circumstances. With my logic being flawless and Noel eager to start up the hill, I grabbed the hot orange chest protection and followed after him.

A while back my shoes were stolen. I think it goes without saying that shoes are normally a requirement when you hike, and I could have really, really used them on this one. It’s tough walking up a slick, muddy hill with good foot gear in the first place, now imagine doing this with rubber flip flops of questionable quality from Bolivia on your feet. Not fun. Rainy season in Nicaragua ensures that it will downpour at least once every two days. It had been a monsoon exactly two days ago, which prevented my departure to Somoto by a day, and the remnants of this storm were still lingering.  The mud was so thick and heavy that I was slipping my way up hill, only to loose my footing and a sandal as I attempted to climb the steep, narrow path. With frustration boiling over, I took off the footwear only to step directly on a massive cacti-like needle that penetrated an inch deep into the tender flesh on the bottom of my foot. The pain that now accompanied every step did not make the trip any easier, but with no other option I pushed onward and upwards. We eventually reached the end of the road – the raging river and steep limestone cliff in the Canyon’s center – and took in the impressive view.

The white, limestone rock was lifted high above the rushing rapids and cut deep into the blue, cloudless sky. The water was moving incredibly fast, bubbling over the enormous rocks that obstructed its path and continuing downstream till it eventually reached the Atlantic. A force of nature that traverses the entire country of Nicaragua, an unforgiving power not to be underestimated, whose humble beginnings are a few miles up in the mountains that encircled the valley. Yet, in the calmer pools far off in the distance, the murky waters were peaceful. Set against the rugged cliffs that grew apart in various sections, these areas were inviting and looked no different than a hidden lagoon. The only difficultly was that in order to get there, one would have to brave the roaring river that ripped through the tighter portions of the canyon and where the water flowed most intensely. The contrast between tranquility and intensity was startling, yet only added to the majestic grandeur of the place. The shattering noise of water rushing combined with the cold wind that brushed its surface provided a chilling reminder of location, bringing whatever fantastical, existential thoughts back into cold, hard reality.

The thing about a canyon is that it is made of rock. I know that this is not new information or anything insightful, but when following a path to middle of a canyon and then having to follow its outline back to where you started far downstream, this becomes a problem. One thing in particular is that its hard to have a clearly defined path on coarse, unkempt stone that is meant to be used more for rock climbing than walking. It did not occur to me beforehand, but this was the reason for the lifejacket: Noel understood that situations would arise where we could not scale the side of the Canyon, thus we would be forced to jump in the water until a more easily maneuverable passage was reached. So, with bare feet and a pricker still lodged half an inch into my foot, we began hugging the limestone walls and shifting our weight to pass by the treacherous spots where walking was no longer possible. When things got real hairy and no other options were available, we jumped. Noel went first to show our course through the river and which side we attempt to aim our bodies, and then I plunged down the 10 t0 15 foot drop into the wild river with no clue as to where I would end up. If I followed Noel’s lead like planned, then everything would be fine. But if I deviated even the slightest bit off course, I could be sent pummeling downstream or get caught in some fast currents where survival would be tricky. This is no exaggeration, more so the cruel truth and a realization that ensured every detail would receive the focus necessary to prevent the worst from transpiring. Pushed underwater and swept away by the rapid pace of the undercurrent, the most difficult aspect is to fight against the initial phase of panic. Then, once in control, moving towards the designated safe side was a matter of wiggling the body into the right areas and moving with the flow of water rather than against it. A slight contortion made passage easy, landing one in the grasps of Noel and through a patch of rapids that would ruin the small child who my life vest was originally designed to fit. Although tight, it provided the buoyancy that was essential for survival and assisted in keeping my head above fast moving water. We did this around 5 times: Noel plunging in first, I followed his lead, then we both climbed out onto some larger rocks and began scaling the walls again. The last time, however, our tired bodies were shot into an opening of the canyon where the current came to a halt. The river’s movement had subsided, and we slowly drifted downstream as if caught in a lazy river at an amusement park. Instead, in the Grand Canyon of Somoto, one is surrounded by marvelous, shiny limestone cliffs that are cut in half by a narrow slit of pure blue sky that radiates sunlight. Penetrating the darkness the sun shines brightly, carrying with it the promise of a new day and the optimism that comes with an afternoon well spent. It appeared that I had finally found the view that the kid in Leon was talking about, except I could hardly imagine that this was the one he had in mind.

Noel and I inched closer and closer to where I initially crossed the river, on the very beginning of my journey, which was a sad sight to see after such an rewarding toil against mother nature. We exited a little higher up, then traversed back across the riverbed and made our way to the exit. After goodbyes were exchanged, I sat on the side of the road and waited for the bus to pick me up on its way back from the boarder. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it is precisely 12:30 PM. It had been exactly 24 hours since I had arrived in Somoto. What a day.


My adventures with the Canyon of Somoto, images only:

A view of the Grand Canyon from afar,

A calmer part of the river that was perfect for a skipping stones competition,

The house where Noel and his family lived,

This sharp, horseshoe shaped object was responsible for destroying my foot while climbing to the look out point. I call it the horns of the devil, but I don’t think that’s what it is known as in Spanish,

The valley from the top point of where we hiked,

Noel, the most bad ass kid that ever lived, in the depths of the canyon,

A tighter part of the riverbed with the water rushing through,

Further downstream, the water moves a little faster and the jumps are a bit higher,

Here are some photos from the past few weeks, all from Nicaragua:

A surreal sunrise at Laguna de Apoyo,

A child prodigy that was hanging out in the streets of Masaya,

A wedding I crashed in Leon,

Commotion just before nightfall,

A lonely fruit and vegetable stand near the bus station in Matagalpa,

Gas station attendants showing a little love to the cameraman,

The spot for washing and drying dirty clothing on the roof of my hostel,

The window protection and the view just beyond on the ride from Matagalpa to Esteli,

The young kid who served me delicious gallo pinto on the street in Esteli,

A road bike from the mountains that made its way to town,

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.

Various people and places in Central America:

Costa Rica –

One of the many beautiful beaches in Costa Rica,

Another view from a little further down the coastline,

The pristine beachfront of Puerto Viejo,

A father explaining to his son the mysteries of the sea in Puerto Viejo,

Nicaragua –

A vendor at the bus station with an epic pair of bifocles,

A street in Granada,

A homeless lady who 1. was not camera shy and 2. encouraged a photo for food exchange,

A young carpenter posted streetside and attending to business,

A church found in Granada that is one of the oldest in all of Nicaragua

A religious sanctuary I stumbled across in a back alley,

The main drag heading to downtown in Granada,

Street kids,

Here is a random assortment of photos that have yet to be posted. All are from Central America:

Panama –

Some of the surrounding mountains in the cloud forest of Fortuna National Park,

A view of the mainland from Isla Boca Brava,

A hidden meadow next to some hot springs I visited in Fortuna,

A friend I made wandering in the woods,

Pose # 2,

Pose #3,

Pose #4,

Pose #5 and demonstration of mastery over other animals with inferior mental capacities,

Here is a random assortment of photos that have yet to be posted. All are from Central America:

Panama –

A slip of land in cowboy country outside of Fortuna,

A not so wild river carving through the mountains,

Pre-Mayan petroglyphs whose creation date is uncertain,

View #2

Close-up #1,

Close-up #2,

Close-up #3,

How I feel at any given moment during the course of an ordinary day,

As I sit here and attempt to write this blog post after a prolonged absence,  sweat drips down my face from the heat and my body continues to be molested by mosquitos that have decided to harvest my blood. These two have become common themes in Central America, the third being ridiculously slow internet with the tendency to fail at critical moments. Words cannot describe the frustration that ensues after spending hours uploading photos only to have the computer crash or the power to fail: the two most common scenarios amongst an infinity of other disasters that are possible in countries with poor infastructure.  Each of these factors are tolerable in ordinary circumstances, but when one is being strangled by heat, mosquitos, and a poor connection all in the same moment while struggling to turn condensced thought into written word it can become a bit much. Plus, there is a group of young, American high schoolers running around my work station right now and only add further distraction. Their boisterous nature is a far cry from soothing, but is backed up by the comical lengths each one goes to impress the other. Efforts to recollect and compose my thoughts for this next posting are a bit diluted, as my main concern revolves around a lingering question: What the hell was I like at that age? The more bothersome aspect is the response: Probably worse. For now, I will leave that topic at rest and continue onward with my tale of exploration in Central America. My mission is for the next hour or so is to keep my mind far away from my immediate surroundings and the testosterone driven youths that are desperately trying to establish their coolness. I just wished those kiddies realized that life’s not a competition  and communication would be alot more effective if you didn’t use ¨like¨before you begin every one of your sentences. Two valuable lessons that will go a long way in terms of development, or at least somewhere to start. I hope my little sister, Elizabeth, is listening (there’s the ¨shout out on the blog¨ that she has so desperately wanted for the past three months).

Well the last time I made an effort on the computer was just after visiting the volcanic islands of Ometepe. With its beauty providing a lasting impression and a first taste of life in Nicaragua, Ometepe was more than I could have ever asked for: Undeveloped terrain begging to be explored, stuffed with passionate locals that are driven by a thirst for positivity and life in a world that is otherwise dry and serves only hardship or struggle to its inhabitants. This last description, I would say, can apply to all of Nicaragua and explains as to what makes it such a spectacular place. For those willing to brave difficulty and potential danger, they will find that lurking in the cracks of  unstable government and war-torn countryside lies a land of astounding possibility. The population is amicable and proud of their turbulent past, satisifying an intangible characteristic that guides most countries to the path of success and leads them out of the depths of despair. Hardworking yet careworn, they look forward with optimism and seek to learn from the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, however, no matter how much effort is directed outwardly a large portion of their future success relies on a government that is  unstable at best and political parties who prefer warfare to diplomacy. Also having a tendency to placate the leader’s needs and wallets first, it may be a long time before we see Nicaragua land on it´s feet and become a safe, secure country in Central America. We can only hope that things will work out for the better, as millions of people’s livlihoods are at stake.

Intrinsically placed within the conundrum that is Nicaragua are a multitude of other factors, the most important for my purposes is its seemingly uninhabitated landscape. Being one of the largest countries in Central America, Nicaragua has a bulk of land but also the lowest population density – meaning that much of it remains unscathed by the detriments of urban development and increased pollution. Its various cities, each of which is a remnant of colonial expansion, have a touch of history and incredible architecture to compensate for the intrusion on otherwise naturally beautiful lands.  I have spent a bit of time in each, the city and the countryside, to gain a better feel for the place and can safely say after nearly two weeks it is one of the best countries I have visited to date. A perfect blend of rural and urban, Nicaragua provides one with a buffett of activities that will satiate the appetite of every sort of traveler: the sophisticated cosmopolitcan type, the rugged outdoorsman, and anything that lies betweeen. Care to sip fresh brewed organic coffee and read some of Central America’s finest poetry? Then you better head to Lèon (my present location), post up in a cafe and get lost in the works of Ruben Diario. Do you want some hard hikes and volcanoes to climb with active craters? Then the trails and network of paths around Cerro Blanco would be good for you, only a few hours outside of the city´s capital Managua and full of possibility. If surfing is your thing, then San Juan del Sur offers some of the best breaks around – an assortment to chose from with waves so large that even the innocent bystander can appreciate their quality. Or, for some pure relaxation, go to Laguna de Apoyo where the crystal clear water is good enough to scuba dive and various fishies that swim underneath the turquoise surface cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Better yet, if you want to find our where really loud, annoying high schoolers sent on community service missions like to linger in 3rd World Countries, then you should come visit me in the lobby of the hostel where I am currently staying (and will subsequently be leaving as early as possible tomorrow morning in search of a more tranquil abode). Although the latter may not appeal to you, one of the first few probably does and is reason enough for why you should come check this country out: It is phenomenal.

I spent the time after isolation on Ometepe relaxing surf side in San Juan del Sur. The vibe is mellow, low key and mirrors something you would encounter in Southern California rather than Southern Nicaragua. An ideal place for familiarizing oneself with the habits of society after a prolonged absense, the beach side village is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants for locals and foreigners alike. The Nica personality rises above, however, with the fishermen casting hand lines out into the surf and the bustling marketplace selling the freshest food relentlessly from sunrise to sunset. Hidden underneath the tin roofs, women with fruit, vegetables, baby chickens, and anything else imaginable force their goods onto those passing by in hopes of making a sale…aggresively. I’ve noticed that being a light skined foreigner of moderate height amongst dark skinned locals of diminuitive stature, I have the tendency to stand out in overly crowded market places. This is means two things: 1. The already aggressive saleswomen are more aggressive knowing I can spend more cash than others and give them an opportunity to overcharge, and 2. If anyone were looking for some one to mug or rob, it would be me. Those two characteristics all but guarentee that every time I enter a bustling  street or a group of vendors there hardly a dull moment. For example, the time two squat mothers trapped me between their stands until I purchased a pair of stalkings (?) or when a group of street kids followed me in a line for over an hour and a half making periodic attempts at snagging my wallet (not fun). The adventure never ends, whether out in the country or inside the city, with the only variable being the amount of excitement.

This last part reminds me: I encountered my first full on difficulty on the road. My sneakers got stolen. It’s a travesty and the initial devastation still has not subsided. Those babies had been with me for quite a while, traveling over many lands and assisting in many dangerous activities. The most common was running around in Buenos Aires and dodging traffic, an activity I would not recommend to anyone with a fear of angry, disgruntled cab drivers, while the more rare was stomping on a crocodile when searching for Anacondas in the Amazon Basin. Sure, my pair of Nike’s had some miles on them but they never, ever let me down. I hope their new possessor puts them to good use, in honor of all that they had done for me over the past 4 months. The fiasco that was filing a police report in Nicaragua has enough material for a seperate post. Let’s just say this: Unsurprisingly, it’s a very inefficient process even for one that can speak the language and has the an endless threshhold for time wasting after exposure to South and Central American culture for over a year. The fact that those officers, most of which were my age or younger, are the most qualified to enforce the law and wield AK 47s is beyond frightening.

From San Juan del Sur I headed north, spending a few days in Granada before resting on the cool, rocky shores of Laguna de Apoyo.  Granada is a cultural epicenter for the Nicaraguan people: It is the birthplace of many revolutionary ideas, thinkers, and political parties (the avantgarde, if you will) while also doubling as one of the eldest cities fortunate to survive from the original colonization period. The multicolored buildings, whose varying brightness and hues complete the entire color spectrum, exuberate a certain wholesomeness that leaves one feeling as though he is viewing a materpiece that blends vision and style perfectly. The people that fill the cityscape have personalities as vibrant as the colors of the houses where they live. Old and young alike wait outside either on the stoop or in a rocking chair, dying to engage  in conversation about the current political situation or the upcoming festivities for the weekend. You don’t have to look to hard in Granada to find it’s beauty: It’s sitting right in front of you everywhere you look, just keep your eyes open and you’ll see it soon enough.

The Laguna de Apoyo was a pretty incredible sight even after the majestic element that fills Granada. More remote, far away from any developed areas, the Laguna is an oasis hidden between the cities that fill the eastern coast of Nicaragua. I only spent a couple of nights, but I did manage to make the most of my time and explore a bit. Loads of howler monkeys, transparent lizards, and mosquitos greeted me as I made my way across the 4 mile wide crater on a kayak, setting foot on an entirely undeveloped area of the lakefront property to do as I please (certain rules regarding clothing may or may not have been temporarily suspended). I absorbed the sun and swam deep down to catch sight of a few of the fishes while the daylight lasted, then headed back to the hostel and relaxed in hammock for the rest of the evening. Two days well spent; relaxtion achieved.

Now I am in Leon. I think I may stay here for a week or passibly longer, which would mean it is the longest time I have remained in one place since my trip began. My body has been telling me recently that its bones are weary of travel and it may be time to rest before I push through till the end of my journey. I have just under two months left, meaning there’s still tons to see and do before I am finished with my work in Central America. Now, more than ever, may be the time to recuperate before one last push. More updates and photos to come this week. Abrazos.

Various shots for entertainment:

Chickens for sale at a bus station. Its better off that you don´t think about what they are going to be used for,

Photo #1 of the most incredible sunset I have ever seen,

Photo #2, this one being a portrait of some badass I found chillen on the docks,

Photo #3,

Photo #4, with a better view of Ometepe in the background,

There are alot of butterflies on Ometepe, here is one that I got on camera,

A waterfall on Ometepe, about half way up a volcanoe, where I hiked one afternoon,

A standard scene for a bus station in Nicaragua,

A lonely street in Granada,

A grand cathedral a little further down the street,

Jaw dropping sunset Part II, this time in Granada,

Some pillars from an original colonial building,

I just demolished some a platter of chicken and rice made by some lovely Nicaraguan princess doubling as a street vender. My experience on the road has taught me this much: Street food can be risky, but it sure as hell can be rewarding. I just chowed down on a full sized plate, that would normally go for around $5 in the USA, for $1.50 and it came with a drink made of fresh fruit – instant bliss in the heat that devours the Nicaraguan country side. Of course, the amount of food may be questionable for it´s price, but let´s not forget this is a Third World country and usually the less questions one asks the better. Sure, there may be some strange bacteria growing in my stomach right now and it may even be incurable, directly caused by unsanitory preparation methods and, of course my favorite, poorly stored meat. If that´s the case, then pain and suffering shall soon follow, with immense weight loss a certainity and death even a possibilty. But I will retort accordingly: Nothing will ever replace the sweet sense of satisfaction that fills my body right now, no amount of discomfort can take away from my elated state after consuming such freshly prepared food, even if it may mean my doom in a matter of a few hours. It´s not ever day that you get to experience the life´s work of a Nicaraguan mother, as she carts around her livlihood attempting to profit on a recipe that has people lined around the corner. It´s like supporting an artist by paying for her creation. Worth the risk? I think so.

Now, a few details are in order to fill in the dots and explain where I am right now. I think the last blog post, if I am not mistaken, referred to Panama and it´s majestic beauty: Mountains, valleys, greenery, dense vegatation, Cloud Forrests, etc. Panama was a great place, no doubt about it, and I miss it tremendously. Aesthetically one of the finest countries I have been to yet, aside from Bolivia which still reigns supreme, with the infastructure to make traveling as easy as it would be in, could you imagine, the USA. With a little bit of luck and the avoidance of any major natural catastrophes, one could get from one side of the country to the next in some 8 or 9 hours direct. Compared to the other place´s I have been, that´s like winning the lottery.

But, it should be said that I didn´t embark on this trip with the ease of transportation being my primary focus. For if it were, then I would have never set out on the journey in the first place, considering how uncertain the arrival at point B can be after leaving point A at any time. 4 hours can turn into 6, 6 into 10, and 11 into 16 without any justifiable cause, almost as if schedules are rough guidelines and created on a whim. It does leave, however, an element of surprise when venturing aboard any vehicle in South or Central America. You never know what you´re going to get, in all honesty. Today, for instance, to move a whopping 80 km took 4 hours. That´s slow, like really, really slow. Painful, but it´s what you get when the roads are one way and there is two way traffic throughout, made of dirt and volcanic rock when it´s the middle of rainy season, and a majority of the streets (more like paths)  that are available happen to be under construction (the construction being comprised of dumping more dirt on top of the pre existing dirt, thus why I think path is more adequate). Usually, it´s my fellow passengers that help me get through it all: Today, it was a pig wrapped in a blanket and placed in a small vegetable bag, followed by an elderly woman transporting a few chickens underneath her skirt in the seat next to me. The medley of animal sounds can actually be very relaxing when combined with the engine of a repaired school bus from the 1970´s, chugging along the dirt road and sending every passenger bumping as it shoots over the next pot hole.

It may seem that I am babbling right now, but I am not. There is a point to this nonsensical banter about the poor transportation that is rife in Third and Second world countries. I made short work of Costa Rica for the exact reason I had been describing above, maybe just in the opposite sense. Costa Rica is a fantastic place. It´s coasts are lined with some of the nicest beaches in the world, it´s interior blends east and west into a mixture of gold, brown, green, and orange that rolls like waves in the ocean, and it´s people are more than willing to help a foreigner if the opportunity presents itself. Yet, along side that picture perfect beach sits a Pizza Hut or McDonalds. The goods that are produced from the soil are reeped elsewhere, abroad in the U.S.A. or maybe even Europe. Most of it´s citizens lie around and wait for the tourists, as they provide the only means of consistent business throughout the country, adbondoning their culture almost like it never existed in the first place. This Central American country is being overrun with American culture, in the form of television, advertisements, and even consumer products, at a scarry pace. For the vacationer, it´s an ideal place to bring the family: Nice beachfront real estate, more developed than any of the neighboring countries, easily accessible from the USA.  To the backpacker it´s a whole different ballgame: Expensive, hardly authentic, and lacking the quintessential Latino vibe  that pours out of it´s neighbors. Maybe a place that I visit in twenty years time with my wife and children, but until then I do not see myself going back: Far too Americanized for my current tastes and preferences. I do admit, however, that it will become even more popular now that the Gulf of Mexico will be ruined for years, thanks entirely to BP and it´s dimwitted engineers. An influx of foreign investment is likely, considering how ideallyic the scenery is, its proximity to the States, the stability of it´s government, and it´s safety compared to less developed nations like Honduras, Nicaragua, or El Salvador.  I´d look here for the next booming real estate market, where most of the capital will be sent from Gulf side properties that have lost their value in the USA. Not 100% sure, of course, but it seems likely until the Gulf Oil spill gets resolved – something that doesn´t appear to be happening any time soon.

The slow pace of Nicaragua has began to grow on me. Ever since entering this country, leaving Costa Rica in my wake, I have come to appreciate it´s charming beauty and simplistic way of life. This is a land of many firsts: The first time I have gone an entire week without running water, the first time I have had to hand wash my dirty clothes, the first time (and hopefully last) I have had a roach and a beetle as bedside partners when I woke up the next morning. For these reasons, and many others, the first word that comes to mind when describing Nicaragua is RAW – or more specifically, in a phrase – raw, undeveloped madness. Yet there is something so charming admist the chaos that anyone who failed to venture within it´s realm would be at a loss.

I spent the past week on a volcanic island, La Isla de Ometepe, in the middle of Nicaragua´s largest lake, Lago de Nicaragua. The living conditions here were a bit crude, somewhere along the lines of the indigenous of Bolivia, but allow one to immerse oneself in the culture completely. I think my moment came when, after asking where I could get laundry cleaned, the matriarch of the household showed me a washboard and a bucket, then pointed to the well. I looked at her in astonishment, asked her for tips, and she just laughed. Or, perhaps the day before when I asked where one could take a shower, and the home owner nodded to the corner where there was a curtain and a garbage bin full of water; the elotted space provided by the architect for cleansing oneself. It is hard to move beyond the ordinary comforts of more developed nations and dive head first into the commonalities of crude rural living such as these, but a little digging will show that many rewards lie beneath for those capable of enduring some discomforture along the way. You learn this first hand, when staying with those families and becoming exposed to their friendly mannerisms, strong moral fiber, and ethical standards in dealing with the hardships of life. Everywhere I have stayed I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by honest, dedicated individuals who care  about you, your story, and your well being above anything else. Entire families working together to build a homestead adequate for travelers, then pouring their lives to it´s maintaince and sustainability in order to help those that are passing through for very little cost – hardly ever asking for more than what is necessary for their survival. Down to earth, good hearted people are Nicaraguan, some of the finest I have met on my trip yet.

The landscape, no doubt, would satisfy one´s needs even if the locals were not as sensational. There has been very little urban development in Nicaragua, meaning that alot of it´s natural setting remains intact. Thus, an 80 km bus ride like today will take 4 hours or maybe even longer depending on the weather, but it´s painless if you look outside your window: Calm, clear waters surrounding a prehistoric island, with two active volcanoes casting their shadows over the ripe farmland that rests just above, percisely 1800m. I had been on the Isla de Ometepe for a week, trapped within it´s secluded environment, and it has been wonderful. My means of transportation, aside from a rickety old school bus, has been a pair of Nike´s that have probably taken me some 30 miles since arrival. I climbed both volcanoes, visited waterfalls, and went to the Ojo de Agua, a picture perfect swimming spot that is hidden by dense jungle vegatation and rests just below the cloud line. I also probably lost some 30 pounds of water weight admist the heat and ate beans for every meal, including breakfast. It´s been a great time.

Now, I am heading back to the mainland in an effort to reaquaint myself with civilization. I have lived the life of a recluse for the past week, and I am starving for some companionship and conversation (in English). I could also use an ATM, seeing as the only one on the island is broken. I plan to head to the beach tomorrow, via the morning ferry, then up north to a colonial town called Grenada. The place is supposed to be very nice, and safe, so I am looking forward to spending a few nights on the town. In the few weeks after, I will primarily be floating around cities in the Northwest of Nicaragua – areas known for the astounding architecture and plentiful coffee beans. I assume, like everywhere else I have been, it will be fantastic. Will update accordingly. Chau.