¡Queremos Pastel!

As most of you probably already know last weekend saw me celebrating my birthday here in Honduras. I had decided I wanted to spend my birthday weekend in Candelaria and then go to Santa Rosa this weekend to celebrate with some of the other volunteers (though has been postponed until next weekend now). Unfortunately Jesse and Lucy, our buds from Tomala, had said they couldn’t afford to go to Santa Rosa which was disappointing but after three months on the road understandable.

So what a surprise it was when, on the Friday before my birthday, who got off the bus from La Esperanza to Candelaria but Jesse and Lucy! Apparently they had been planning a surprise visit since Christmas! I thought Amy had been acting a bit suspicious… We showed them around, to the schools and our favourite spots, introduced them to some of our friends and then took them home for some baleadas! They were tired as they had come quite a long way that day so we had an early night, all curled up with two single beds between us.

The next day, Amy and I had plans to climb Cerro Cerique, the mountain that overlooks Candelaria, with our friend Alex so we took Jesse and Lucy along with us. We had thought it would be an easy wee climb but it was several hours of scrambling up and then down treacherous slopes covered in dust and loose gravel that caused a few cuts and scrapes, one tumble and almost concussion and worst of all a ripped pair of leggings. It was very hard but satisfying to have done considering you can see it from basically anywhere in Candelaria.

We thought this was the top…
Oh, how wrong we were!
The view back to Candelaria
The view from the VERY top

Because our morning was filled with more physical exertion than any of the four of us are used to we were pretty dead for the rest of the day but did manage to rouse ourselves to go and get dinner and then pick up a cake! Seeing as Jesse and Lucy had to leave very early the next morning, they unfortunately wouldn’t be able to be there for much of my actual birthday but that didn’t mean we couldn’t still eat cake!

A smile as big as the cake on my lap

Even after our draining morning we all managed to make it to midnight and see the 19th of February come in. Only a few hours later we were dropping Jesse and Lucy off at the bus and waving goodbye. Because we’d spent yesterday doing nothing it did mean that I had some work to do on my birthday but it wasn’t so bad. We did get free fried chicken and tajadas in the market and of course there was plenty of cake to eat.

To end the day we went to mass at the Catholic church, which we had never been to before. Some girls from my sixth grade class had invited me and even had it announced that it was my birthday during the service. It was a very different experience to when we’ve been to the Evangelical church but nice to see the other side of religion in Candelaria.

A Honduran birthday tradition (I’m just glad I avoided the eggs in my hair!)

Overall, it was a very different birthday to my previous 18, not least because it was spent in Honduras! It was also the first time I’ve spent my birthday away from Amy (that would be twin Amy) and I think that was weird for me and her but also for my mum. We all managed though and hopefully next year we’ll all be back together eating more cake!

Back to the Day Job

Two weeks have passed since we arrived back to our home in Honduras and I was extremely happy to find it truly did feel like a homecoming. It wasn’t until we left and came back that I realised how comfortable I’ve grown here, how much a part of our host family we are and how many friends we actually have. These were all things I wanted out of being immersed in a community and Candelaria managed to deliver that without me noticing.

Another thing that happened without me noticing is that we are now six months in. These past six months have undoubtedly been some of the best of my life and I wouldn’t change them for the world. A lot of this time has been taken up by traveling during our holidays but now that we’re back in our project I’m looking forward to doing as much as we can and using the time we have left to make as a big a difference as possible.

In the three months or so that we have been outside of Candelaria it has seen some significant changes. It’s summer here which means that instead of afternoon rainstorms we just get more sun. The river now consists of various pools of still water and the roads are basically made of dust meaning an approaching car now signals a coughing fit and the need for a shower. It should start to cool down and, more importantly, rain again in May but until then it’s mid-day siestas and dust blown hair for us. 

We were thrown right back into things when we arrived back, and were making torillas for baleadas barely half an hour after getting off the bus. Candelaria was also in the midst of a fería which meant for the next few days we had concerts in the park, stalls lining the streets, the coronation of the Queen of the Fería and a singing competition held literally right outside our door.

Crowning the Queen of the Fería

I’m not going to lie, our first week back, before our lessons started, was spent not doing very much. We did manage to force ourselves to unpack (which wasn’t actually that hard seeing as it’s a luxury we haven’t had for a few months) and do some planning for classes and the rest of the year but that was about it.

Once school started it was easy to get back into the swing of things, the hardest part being remembering that all the classes are now a year older so when I say 4th grade I probably mean the new 5th grade. Or do I? Very confusing. We had some changes to our timetable, the biggest being that we know have 4-6th grade for three lessons a week instead of four which is disappointing but despite our efforts there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.

Working hard?
Or hardly working?

What we have managed to do however, is finally organise teaching some classes in the colegio. We went to a teachers meeting to introduce ourselves to everyone that works at the high school and then the next day we sat down with the deputy head to make a timetable – easy as that! Instead of watching our afternoons drag by as we try and amuse ourselves, they will now be filled with an hour and a half each of English classes with students in the last year of their studies. The way it works means we still have some spare time so we’re going to see how this goes and then possibly try and fit a few more classes in. They might as well make full use of us!

View from the new workplace!

Outside of school we’ve made a few trips to the river, if it can really be called that right now, gone on a few walks up to a point on the road where you can see El Salvador and played football with Candelaria’s girls team. While we may have more friends than we realised, it’s not really an even split so we’re on a mission to find some amigas rather than all amigos!

That right there would be El Salvador, off in the distance

Since being back we’ve also celebrated everybody’s favourite holiday, Valentine’s Day. In Honduras it’s called El Día del Amor y Amistad which translates to the Day of Love and Friendship. Much more inclusive and it makes me feel better about the fact that the only interested party I had to fight off was Amy wanting a selfie and the only gift I received was a highlighter from a 2nd grader. I did get cake though!

It’s always a felíz día when there’s cake!

Survival Guide: Travelling

It’s that time again. Another big milestone has passed and we now have as much time left in Honduras as we have spent here. That sparks a whole range of feeling, from anticipation for what’s still to come to excitement at going home and sadness at the thought of leaving a place that has become home too.

I’m trying not think about that yet so in the meantime, to mark this anniversary I am continuing what I started three months ago. I have gathered all the lessons I’ve learned from a hard three months on the road, ready to help any more intrepid adventurers on their way.

Survival Guide: Travelling

  • Cheap food, street food, never gonna eat food – the mantra of a traveller on a budget. Whatever is cheapest, that’s what you’re eating, street food is a necessary but also delicious risk that must be taken and when times are tough, two meals a day will have to do.
  •  Take free water wherever you can – the bane of my existence was having to buy water everywhere we went (apart from Costa Rica where tap water is safe), especially when the rest of Central America doesn’t sell bags of water as widely as Honduras does.
  • You can’t beat a chicken bus – don’t be enticed by the offer of a direct shuttle even if it has air conditioning. A/C’s not all its cracked up to be and you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg for it.
  •  Missing your bus is not the end of the world – there’s always another or at least another option and worst comes to the worst you spend one more night where you are. No use getting your panties in a twist, as I’ve learned.
  • Approach borders with care – don’t make any sudden movements and never show any signs of fear.
  • A portable charger is mans best friend, not your dog – a seven hour bus ride is a lonely thing with a dead phone. 
  •  Nothing is truly your own – when travelling in group all resources are communal. This ranges from food to headphones to socks. Be prepared to share.
  • Pack your bag and then take out a third of the clothes you have – I can promise your shoulders and your wallet will thank you when you neither have to carry it all or wash it all. 
  • 1 bag, I repeat, 1 bag – 4 bags is never a good idea no matter how essential they seem before you leave. 2 bags at most BUT NEVER 4 (not looking at anyone in particular, Lynch).
  • No daredevil stunts without medical insurance – that is unless you’ve got your own private plane to fly you to the nearest hospital.
  • The unexpected adventures are sometimes the best – case in point, we had a hitchhiking competition to a cheese factory in Costa Rica because we’re lazy and it ended up being one of my favourite things we did. 
  • Say yes to everything – ok, maybe not everything because that’s how you end up taking part in a Mayan human sacrifice ritual but in general good things happen when you take a chance. 
  •  Use whatever Spanish you have whenever you can – people will be pleased and possibly surprised but also much more likely to be friendly and help you out, even if you’re butchering their language.  
  • Talk to people – whether that be locals to make sure you’re not being ripped off when you go to buy your traditional Guatemalan poncho, the people who work in your hostel who might be able to help you with the next step of your trip or other travellers to share war stories. Remember, it’s the people that make the place.
  •  Be ready for the time of your life – I couldn’t have imagined how much I would love travelling when we started. I had hopes but thought they were almost too good to be true. And I never knew how much it would change me. I get less stressed, am more likely to go with the flow, say yes to the chances I get given, I’m more outgoing, more social, more adventurous. I mean, I got a tattoo, old Sara would never have done that but I have no regrets, about anything. I will always remember the amazing, crazy, surprising, unbelievable three months I spent backpacking around Central America.

Life’s a Beach

As I write, there is officially less than 24 hours until travelling is over, Amy and I are back in Candelaria and life returns not to normal but as close as it gets.

Our last week has been spent resting up before getting back to work. From Lake Atitlan we returned to Antigua for one night before getting a 2am shuttle down to El Tunco in El Salvador. El Salvador wasn’t on our original plans but we decided to skip Semuc Champey in Guatemala (a controversial decision among other travellers) to give us time to tick off another country. It was only the four girls that headed down to Honduras’ neighbour as the boys decided they wanted to visit some of the other projects in Honduras before returing home instead.

We arrived in the lazy, two street beach town of El Tunco at 8am and began as we meant to go on. It was a gruelling three days of sleeping, reading and not much else, either by the pool or on the beach. 

Amy and I did manage to pull ourselves off the sun loungers one morning to get a surf lesson though I might have been better staying where I was. With one previous two hour lesson under my belt from Costa Rica last year, I thought it would all come back to me. I was wrong. Along with lacking the natural rhythm to be a salsa dancer, I do not possess the balance to be a surfer. Amy however was a natural!

Look at us go! (This lasted about 0.25 seconds)
That’s more like it

We were sent off with one of the best sunsets we’ve seen as we prepared to leave at 4am the next day. Our aim was to get all the way from El Tunco on the Pacific coast of El Salvador to Tela on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. It was a long day that lasted 17 hours and took 5 buses and a border crossing but we did it. 

There was a massive meet up planned for 15 out of our now 21 volunteers (our 8 month volunteers arrived last week and made the trek over to Tela) for Saturday night. As it was Tomalá and Candelaria’s first time in Tela we got to experience the gorgeous beach and interesting nightlife of Tela while being amazed at how Eilidh and Sophie get anything done here in the heat! Thanks to Amy we even had a bit of excitement when we got back in the early hours of the morning when the kitchen tap/pipe that sticks out of the wall came off and we had to deal with a rapidly flooding house! 

And then it was over. Amy and I travelled back to San Pedro on Sunday with Jesse and Lucy as well as our 8 monthers, Norome and Eva whose project is on our side of the country, close to Tomala. Our last night is being spent back in Gracias, our home away from home, relaxing and getting ready to return to Candelaria tomorrow. 

It has been the perfect way to end our travels, relaxing and easing ourselves back into Honduras so we can go back with lots of energy to throw into our work. And we hope to have lots of it when we return!

Since When Was 18°C Cold?

Stepping out of the bus into the city of Antigua, we experienced something we haven’t really felt for the past five and a half months – cold (even though it was 18°C!). Jumpers went on, shorts were regretted and we marveled at how good it felt. 

To be fair it was still early in the morning, and as we would learn over the three days that we stayed in Antigua, the middle of the day could actually get quite warm. Nights were colder than we are used to which lead to a welcome discovery in our hostel. They actually give you duvets! It’s the little things. 

Antigua is such a lovely city that we were quite happy spending our time wondering around and taking it all in. Antigua is filled with cobblestone streets and even more colourful buildings and is filled with the perfect balance of tourists and travellers and the people that actually live there. It’s not a city made especially for tourists but it welcomes them with open arms. Antigua is also ringed by mountains and a few volcanoes, some of which are active, and this just adds to the charm. 

We didn’t really get up to much here other than enjoying the town itself. I did manage a walk up to a cross on a hillside that overlooks Antigua and gives you the most incredible views and also took part in a free salsa class. Let’s just say that my parents gifted me neither the natural rhythm or the coordination of limbs to allow me to take it to a professional level. 

After Antigua we had a bit of a split. Five of us left for Lake Atitlán while Amy left for Guatemala City to retake the chemistry exam she needs to get into her uni course for next year. I think I suffered from more separation anxiety during those few days than I ever have with twin Amy! It’s going to be a long month of waiting for the results but everyone keep your fingers and toes crossed! 

Atitlán is a lake with multiple personalities. For example, there’s Panajachel, the tourist town, where coaches unload their passengers to buy souvenirs by the armful; San Marcos, the hippie town, with yoga retreats and spiritual workshops galore; and San Pedro, the backpackers town, split pretty much in half and shared between locals and travellers. 

Our relaxed approach (or laziness depending on your viewpoint) continued into our stay at Atitlán. Our first day solely consisted of looking around the little town we had chosen to stay in, San Pedro de la Laguna. We ventured across the lake to visit Panajachel too, with plans to kayak but we backed out because Atitlan, being a mile high lake was even colder than Antigua. 

I really enjoyed the time we spent in both of these places and even though it sounds like we didn’t do much (which we didn’t) it was just what we felt like. We have been travelling for almost three months now and going from place to place every couple of days takes its toll so that by now, sometimes all we want to do is nothing. And our next stop would cater to this perfectly…

Flores Tikal-ed My Fancy

It seems like every blog post I write starts in the same way – with a long bus journey – and this one is no different. To get from Mexico to Guatemala, our last country before returning home to Honduras, we had to cross back into Belize first and change buses twice despite having paid for a direct shuttle. Apart from that, and the surprise exit fee from Mexico that left us penniless, the journey actually went quite smoothly and we arrived in Flores in the early evening.

Flores is a little island in Lake Petén Itza in the Petén region of Guatemala which was celebrating it’s anniversary while we were there meaning there was a feria on during our stay that involved a lot of parties, presentations and pageants. Flores is the most common base for tourists and travellers that want to go and visit the Mayan site of Tikal, which was on our agenda for our stay.

We decided to save Tikal for our second day and took the first day on Flores easy. The town is very cute, full of cobblestoned streets and colourful facades. In the afternoon we grabbed one of the local boats and got it to take us across the lake to a rope swing. It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon, with a cold beer and a pack of cards, and provided a good deal of embarrassing moments to as we overestimated our strength and elegance! The view of the sunset was unparalleled too.

Looking about 100x more graceful than I actually was!

Day 2 meant off to Tikal. Tikal is famed for it’s sunrise tours but being 18 and lazy none of us really fancied getting up at 3am to get there in time so we opted for the less popular, much quieter sunset tour. The transport we bought from our hostel included a guide so we were led around the many impressive temples of Tikal before arriving in the Central Plaza in time to watch the sun set… behind a tree.

Despite the slightly disappointing end to the tour, Tikal was definitely my favourite of the ruins we have visited so far. With many of the buildings still standing and in good condition, and with a defined Central Plaza, it’s easy to imagine Tikal as the bustling city it was until it’s decline in the 9th Century. Tikal was a major economic and political centre during the Mayan era and features the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, Temple IV.

To break what is becoming a habit, I’ll finish this post with a bus so I can dive right into the next one. Our next destination was supposed to be Semuc Champey but after some discussion we decided to skip it to give us the chance to fit in one more country – El Salvador! We were warned that to get from Flores to Antigua, where we decided to go next, night buses were the fastest options but having not been prepared for this, it meant a day hanging around in our hostel before embarking on the single most uncomfortable bus journey we’ve had. And before anyone says anything it wasn’t even a chicken bus! Anyway we eventually got to Guatemala City where it was a quick ride over to Antigua, getting us there bright and early to find breakfast and explore the city before we could crash out and catch up on some sleep.

Marvelling at Mexico

After eventually making it out of Utila, our next stop was Mexico. With not much time left we had decided to spend our time in Mexico exploring the Quintana Roo region. Our first stop was Tulum but to get there we had to go through four countries, cross three borders and take an unexpected night bus. It took us a full two days and one night of travelling but we eventually arrived in Tulum in the early hours of the morning.

We had arrived earlier than planned after deciding to take the night bus from Belize City so hadn’t found any accommodation. This meant we ended up walking around Tulum at 6.30 in the morning, being turned away from hostel after hostel because they were full. We did eventually find some hostels that had space for us but as they were over $20, more than double what we usually pay for a bed, we decided that we couldn’t afford to stay in Tulum for more than night.

While we were too exhausted after all of our travelling to do much the day we arrived, we made plans to visit the Mayan ruins before taking a bus to Cancun the next day. These were the first ruins I had visited and while they were impressive, there was something even more breathtaking. The ruins at Tulum are right on the coast and it was hands down the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen.

Cancun was our next stop and after the disaster that was trying to find somewhere to stay in Tulum we booked ahead this time. Our stay involved even more beautiful water, another visit to the Mayans and the most expensive night out ever. Do you know it costs $60 to get into a club in Cancun???

I swear it’s impossible to get a photo where all of us are smiling

A major Central American attraction is the Mayan site of Chichen Itza near Cancun. The main temple is on postcards, magnets and souvenirs everywhere you look and despite all the hype, it didn’t actually disappoint. It did take us five hours on a bus to get there just to spend a few hours looking around before enduring the same journey on the way back but it was worth it to see such a well known historical landmark.

A little history about the Mayans seeing as they’re featuring so heavily in this blog. The Maya civilisation spread all the way from the southeastern regions of Mexico, down through Guatemala and Belize to the north of Honduras and El Salvador. The Mayans were around from 2000 BC until the mysterious collapse of Mayan civilistation toward the end of the ninth century that led to the abandonment of their great cities.

After a few days hanging around in Cancun, we weren’t quite ready to leave Mexico so we decided to make a stop on our way back down to the border. We chose Laguna de Bacalar, also known as the lake of seven colours. I thought the water in Tulum and then Cancun couldn’t get any better but Mexico just kept it coming. Bacalar has the clearest, most crystalline water you could imagine and is hard to look away from. 

Yep, this is actually what it looks like
Enjoying the beautiful yet freezing water

Overall we only spent a week in Mexico, partly to try and avoid the departure tax for stays longer than seven days (which we still had to pay by a day), partly out of a desire to get to Guatemala and partly because despite what everyone had told us Mexico was much more expensive than we were prepared for. This may be because we were there in the high season, right over the Christmas holidays, or maybe because we mostly just visited the notoriously touristy places.

Anyway, whatever it was, I feel like I owe Mexico another chance to bowl me over like it has most of the travellers we’ve met but that means giving it much longer than a week – I mean have you seen the size of it? – and visiting places that show off the true Mexican culture. I have a feeling that once I dig past the cities like Cancun and Tulum, Mexico could be a place that I could love.

Christmas – Gap Year Style

It’s finally Christmas! (At least on the blog it is!) After San Juan we spent a couple of days back in León, wondering around the city and visiting a few museums we had missed the first time. From there we had one of the longest days of travelling we’ve ever had, 17 hours from León all the way up to San Pedro Sula. We met up with all the other vols that were coming to Utila and were meant to make it there the next day but we managed to miss the ferry meaning a night in La Ceiba. This mishap meant that that it was Christmas Eve before we arrived in Utila.

The plan for the 10 days we were to spend there was to relax, scuba dive and party! Utila is the perfect little island for all of these activities. It has the laid back charm that suits all Caribbean island, is THE cheapest place in the world to learn to scuba dive as well as being set alongside the second largest barrier reef in the world, and is famous across Central America for hosting the original shot challenge in Skid Row bar. 

Christmas Eve was a very relaxed affair, exploring some of the island and facetiming home to cure a little bout of homesickness I’d been suffering from followed by a night out in the town (and by town I mean the one street that holds all the bars and clubs on Utila). 

Yes we do!

With no set plans for Christmas Day, it was a slow start with most people making the most of the time difference to butt in on Christmas dinner at home. I even got to be guest of honour back in Scotland, propped up on the iPad at the top of the table wearing my cracker hat! 

We had organised a secret Santa between our whole group which led to an amusing half hour. The best presents came from Eilidh, Siobhan and Peter in the form of chocolate, clothes and some well chosen extras but an honourable mention goes out to Tom who spent the day before scouring the island to bring back a pigs foot for Lucy, a life long vegetarian!

Deciding we wanted to make sure we did something with our day, we found a boat to take us out to Water Caye, a tiny island, more like a sandbar really, where we could swim and hang out for the rest of the afternoon. Our hostel, Trudy’s, was hosting a pot luck Christmas dinner for all of its guests and staff in the evening. As we’d only arrived the day before our contribution consisted of a box of wine but that seemed more than good enough for everyone! 

Our main purpose in coming to Utila had been to learn to scuba dive and we started on Boxing Day afternoon at the dive school attached to our hostel, Underwater Vision. Almost everyone had never done it before so were all in the same boat. To start with it was a lot of theory but it wasn’t long before we were doing confined dives by the dock and then the proper open water dives. 

I had been warned in advance by Amy that diving is surreal but it was so much more than I was expecting. In our first dive I was riding a thin line between awe because all of a sudden I could breathe underwater and panic, because I was breathing underwater! But then came the open water dives and the panic was gone because it was like being in a different world. The silence apart from the tickling noise of your bubbles, the laziness of your movements, the coral making fascinating landscapes and the overwhelming vastness of the open ocean. 

Creds to Grace with the GoPro skills

And that’s without the even talking about the animals! Throughout the six open water dives I did I was lucky enough to see an eagle ray, a common octopus, a lobster and massive crab and an absolutely huge barricuda that fortunately had no interest in having divers for lunch! Alongside these were the unbelievable amounts of fish including parrotfish, queen angelfish, fairy basslets and blue tangs (Dory!). 

We finished the course on the 29th and Jesse, Calum and I (with the addition of Lucy and Peter to our stellar team) celebrated by avenging our loss at San Juan’s trivia night by smashing Trudy’s. We got the highest mark in two out of three rounds plus having the best name, Low Pressure Inflator Hoes (the diving pun was sure to win) and while it may not have been free Sunday Funday tickets, we did win 700 lempira to split between us! (Don’t get too excited, that’s only about £20!) 

We had the 30th and 31st to rest up for a big New Years Eve though I still managed to get some paddle boarding in! I must have more balance than I though because I made it the whole way through without falling off… Until climbing back onto the dock when I face planted into the water!

Hogmanay was spent at Trudy’s party up until midnight at which point we transferred to a beach party down the road. While I rung in the new year in Honduras with the family I’ve made here, I had managed to ring it in at home while on the phone to my real family six hours earlier. 

Included in our course were two free fun dives which we had (however wisely) booked for New Years Day, in the afternoon. Something else that was booked for that day was an appointment at the tattoo parlour. Originally I was not one of those this was booked for. However, long story short I came out of that tattoo shop with a permanent reminder of my time in Honduras and I couldn’t be happier with it.

One more day was spent lazing around on what has to be one of the most chilled out islands in the world before it was back to just the six of us and we set off for our next stop – Mexico! 

The whole experience of spending Christmas away from home was as different as I imagined but nowhere near as bad as I feared. While I did suffer from some pretty tough homesickness in the week running up to Christmas it was easily sorted by just seeing my family over video chat. Yes it was weird seeing all our traditions happening without me but we were following our own Project Trust ones and, in my eyes, I was still surrounded by family.

At the end of the day, this has shown me that it really doesn’t matter if you spend your Christmas in the snow or on the beach, how many presents are under the tree or if you get to have turkey and stuffing for dinner. It’s really all about who you spend it with and appreciating what you have. 

Obviously we couldn’t go without the annual Christmas photo
Possibly the only picture of everyone together and even then only Peter’s forehead made it in!

¡Dale Pues!

We did eventually have to leave Costa Rica, to save us breaking the bank or any more bones. We were starting our northward trip back up through Nicaragua that would eventually get us to Honduras, specifically Utila, in time for Christmas. On the way up our main stop was in San Juan del Sur plus a couple more days in León. We rocked up to San Juan late afternoon and were met by a completely stunning sunset and a beer pong competition. Pretty representative of the town and our stay to be honest.

Among travellers, San Juan is one of the ultimate party destinations in Central America mostly due to Sunday Funday, the (in)famous pool crawl – three different hostel bars over 12 hours. Central America is littered with Sunday Funday vests in various colours and they are worn like a badge of honour to show that you survived. 

¡Dale pues!

The town itself however is a haven for ex-pats and the relaxed permanent traveller.  It’s the kind of place you come to for a week and end up staying for the rest of your life. It’s right on the beach which while not the best beach for surfing has the most incredible view of sunset and is also overlooked by the second largest Jesus statue in the world. 

I immediately fell in love. The chilled out vibe, the colourful, cosy streets and the friendly people made it a place I can very easily imagine coming back to for a longer stint. While we were in San Juan we discovered Nicaragua’s signature phrase, akin to pura vida in Costa Rica. ¡Dale pues! means ‘lets do it’ and perfectly suits the people of San Juan.

We arrived on a Thursday night, giving us a perfect amount of time to assimilate before Sunday Funday arrived. We explored the town, went out to one of the nearby beaches to watch a surfing competition, ate bagels at El Gato Negro for almost all our meals and were completely robbed of free Sunday Funday tickets at trivia night (Jesse, Calum and I were anyway. It’s a corrupt system).

El Gato Negro – best bagels in Nicaragua and our regular breakfast spot

Our hostel, Pachamama’s, was one of the participating bars which not only meant that we were in a great position to sneak into the front of the line but also that we got half price tickets. Ours was the first stop which meant that our party started a bit early than most people’s as we waited for everyone else to arrive, though we were kept company by the 2-4-1 mojitos.

To summarise probably the best 12 hours of my life, at least of this trip, we started off at Pacha’s which involved a game of giant jenga, then to another hostel called Anamar that had a super cool pool (in both senses of the word). Third stop was the well known Naked Tiger hostel just outside of town where we had the perfect view of sunset over the bay before finishing the day/night in a club called Arribas back in town.  

There was glitter everywhere for weeks

I’m glad to say that everyone made it through the day (and the following morning) intact. We tried to fend off the Monday blues with a trip to visit Jesus (literally, not spiritually) but unfortunately he was already closed up for the day by the time we got it together enough to get out the door. 

It was here in San Juan that we met the best people and made the best friends that we have so far while travelling. Our hostel was one of the most sociable places we’ve been and we ended up with quite a little crew by the end of it. There were the two American college students who we affectionately nicknamed ‘the frat boys’; Juan and Tito, two Nicaraguan guys that worked at Pacha’s; Miguel, Tatum and the rest of their group of expat American teenagers (who were actually younger than us! Hard to find out here!); our old friend Stephen who we first met in Treehouse in Granada; and last but not least Litz and Vale, the German/Chilean travelling buddies who we adopted into our exclusive group and would have loved to have kept. However they were heading down to Panama so we’ll just have to settle for reuniting at Oktoberfest, right Litz? 

It was hard to leave even though we were going back to León to discover more of the city and then on to Utila to see everyone and we are already trying to plan how to fit in a return visit with a visa run to Costa Rica! As we’ve been going along, one of the big factors that helps me decide how much I like a place is if I can imagine myself living there long term. Suspects so far are Manuel Antonio, of course, but also León and San Juan easily joins them. ¡Dale pues!

I Can’t Seem to Stay Away

After all the drama of Montezuma and San Jose, our next stop was the relaxed town of Manuel Antonio. This is a little, semi-touristy town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. This is the town where I spent a month last summer, volunteering for the organisation GVI and I was thrilled to be able to come back.

Our first few days were spent lazing around on some of the beaches in the area, watching incredible sunsets from our hostel and fighting off a jellyfish (that one was just me). 

Our hostel Serena Vista certainly delivered on it’s promise
Beautiful views of a beautiful beach

One evening I went into the neighbouring town of Quepos to visit the host family I stayed with for the first week of my trip last year. It was lovely to see them again and I’m pretty sure they remembered who I am! I was also able to communicate so much more with them this year as well after so much Spanish practice in Honduras. I was invited to stay for dinner and Olga’s food is just as delicious as I remembered.

With my Olga and Willy, my host parents, and Kelly, another volunteer and my roommate, in summer 2015

The project I worked on last year was in a school called Roncador and while GVI no longer work there I was given the opportunity to meet with the Country Director and visit the project they are focusing on this year, El Cocal. I’m afraid I don’t have many pictures to show from the visit – I was far too busy asking hundreds of questions!

Calum and Tom came with me and we were shown around the community centre where GVI work and where the majority of their programmes are run in El Cocal. Their work is so incredible, ranging from English lessons to daycare to after school clubs. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do with the rest of my life and who knows, I may even end up doing it in Manuel Antonio. 

I enjoyed my time in Manuel Antonio just as much as last time, visiting old haunts and imagining coming back here the next time and the next and the next. This was our last stop and the perfect way for me to remember Costa Rica… At least until I’m back!