We had read up on a place called Cascada Blanca, we wanted to make use of all this camping gear we were carring around and the Swedes were interested in camping. Cascada Blanca is the name of a waterfall just ten kilometers out of town, it had a place to camp, swim and a river to explore. All four of us were game, Tua and I successfully went out to the market and purchased food for the night and morning and we all boarded a taxi to go to the waterfall. We all wanted to make the most of the last couple days the Swedes had before they boarded a plane in Costa Rica in a week. After paying to get in we went to set up camp under a giant rock ledge.
We were right next to the pool under the waterfall. I was hoping we would be the only ones there. Just after finishing setting up camp we made our way directly into the water, the sun had already passed the swimming hole so it perfect temperature to swim with no sun screen. It was nice to be away from the city and the commotion. At times I just long for our little tent hide away. It has been the only consistent home other than each ther we have had. So every time we set up camp it is comforting. Our tent is a 3+, we bought the 3+ because we would have gear and wanted our packs to be in the tent with us. We intend to fit all 4 of us in the tent to sleep, I guess we will cross our fingers and see how it goes. The four of us took a self-guided river tour down the river a couple kilometers!
We all make a great exploring team. It so nice to get some girl time and for Mateo to get some boy time with Timmy. Such as building a giant fire that nearly touched the rock above it and having to wakeup Tua and I because they completely smoked out the tent by burning as much wood as possible. Not to mention the giant rock they throw on the fire to help “put it out.” Boys will be boys. Tua and I talked about travel and plans for the future. I am bit jealous of the Swedes they attend school for free in Sweden, covering their books is their only expense, and even get an allowance for food each month. The down side is paying substantial taxes, it was awesome to get to chat about anything and everything. To our surprise Timmy, Tua, Mateo and I all fit into the tent together! We didn’t have any of our packs and slept like sardines. Our little camping trip was a success!
The chocolate tour was scheduled early, the four of us hoped into the mini bus that was to take us to to the chocolate factory I was excited to compare it to the Theo Chocolate tour in Fremont. I went on the chocolate tour for my birthday a couple years ago and loved it. As we were pulling out of our parking spot the driver slams on his breaks after hearing a crunching sound. I had just thought in my head after our guide introduced us to our driver, I wanted to say, “keep us safe!” Then in that moment we crunch the car in front of us because the driver didn’t pull out enough before turning forward out into the street. We only damaged the ladder and not the mini bus or the other car, it sure did sound like it hurt something. We made it to the chocolate factory just fine. It was like stepping back in time. We were shown how important chocolate was to Nicaraguans and their culture. At one point in history cocoa beans were used as currency. The factory had their old machines and new ones as well. It only had three workers and everything was done by hand, pouring the molds, sealing the wrappers and labeling. They produced 700 chocolate bars a day. We finished our tour with a chocolate tasting, including coffee and chocolate. The four of us needed to decide what to do with the rest of our day.
I call them our Sweedies, I have been keeping in contact since Semuc Champey, they are the Swedish friends that are traveling together. They had decided to change their plans and meet us in Nicaragua! It will be so much fun to have two more! They are to meet us in Matagalpa the next day. We plan to be traveling on the TicaBus until Managua. The end of our twelve hours couldn’t come soon enough. There was only one other gringo on the bus, and when we were crossing the border into Nicaragua we chatted him up, he was a French guy. Really nice had driven a motorcycle all over Vietnam! Sounds like something Mateo and I need to do. He said he was going to Leon and getting off the bus early, catching a chicken bus two hours west. We were to be in Managua early on in the day so we hadn’t made plans to stay anywhere in the evening yet. We had heard about Leon and wished we could of scheduled it in. So we joined the French guy to go to Leon, he was staying at a popular party hostel, we would check in with that hostel, and if not there were plenty more in town. Another bonus is this is where our Sweedies were staying before Magapala! We thought we would just hang out for the night find the Swedes in the am and head east to Matagalpa. We were let off the bus early as expected, and got onto a chicken bus. When we were in El Salvador we exchanged our guide book at a hostel, for a guide book that was more up to date, issued in 2011 instead of 2007. Once arriving in Leon we marched to the Bigfoot hostel with hunger in our stomaches. I had read good things about the Bigfoot hostel, it is a party hostel with awesome staff and amazing food that was cheap. Right when we showed up and got checked in, we ordered some pizza and chiled out. Best pizza I have had since LA when Mateo and I made pizza at Nate’s house. I went and took a nap to recuperate while Mateo went and socialized. The hostel was hosting a beach party at their other location that was at the beach. I woke up and we decided to go, we were sitting at the bar and this guy kept looking at me. I looked over at his and he asked if I was Emily? I said yes, we follow each other on Instagram. This was a crazy small world encounter. A friend from Everett knew a couple of guys who were riding bicycles from LA to the southern tip of South America, so I started following them on Instagram and reading their blog. They had planned to surf all down the coast. Now we are in Leon, Nicaragua and running into this guy. Totally blew my mind, I couldn’t really believe that this event was unplanned, it was all in all encouraging to hear Tom’s story and his decision to come all the way south to Nicaragua on a bike with a surfboard. Soon we all boarded a giant truck and left for the beach. It was a neat spot to hang out for the evening, the moon was full and people watching was great in addition to a bon-fire on the beach. The beach party kept us up late, I contacted Tua right when I woke up, one of our Swedes. They were in Leon and agreed to meet us in the main square! I was excited to be reunited with our new friends. They are a funny pair that keep Mateo and I laughing often. They are on the same schedule we are on, not at all except to catch a flight in Costa Rica in a week. The Swedes had ditched their plans to go to Belize when they were invited to join Mateo and I.
It was so hot in Leon almost 100 degrees. We were in desperate need to consume some ice cream, there were many ice-cream shops we just needed to pick one out. Mateo and I shared a banana split, a favorite for me. The four of us would meet back in the square in an hour, we returned to the hostel and put on our heavy bags and hiking boots.
There was a 2 o’clock bus that went to Matagalpa, we need to be on that bus. Once arriving at the station we loaded up for the hot sweaty and bumpy ride on the chicken bus. It was only a four hour trip to Matagalpa and we already had our hostel picked out, La Buena Onda. After walking a couple kilometers from the bus station we made it to the hostel.
It’s always nice to counteract a long bus ride with a long walk. We finished our evening by eating Mexican food and rested at the hostel. This hostel was really nice, clean, safe, and had good cheap food. The front desk guy said that it was one of the more expensive places in town, at a whopping $8 per night. We booked a chocolate tour for the next day, Tua and I were both really excited.
I really wanted to spend a night on the El Salvador coast, we rose early and departed from Raul’s house, he was a very informational host, we enjoyed having a place to stay with someone who was very knowledgeable about El Salvador. After catching a couple busses and fight to get on a bus with our giant bags we made it to the town of La Libertad. The connecting bus was not showing up so we headed west to El Tunco, along the coast. El Tunco is home to one of the most popular hot spots in El Salvador for surfing and is world renowned for its waves, we didn’t know this until we showed up. Eventually the bus showed it’s carnival painted face, it was a fight to establish ourselves on the bus, eventually two seats showed up with the rotation of people. The bus caddy had us get off in El Tunco, we then walked some more and finally came to the driveway of our hostel. It was simple with just the necessities but it did have hammocks and the beach was a five minute walk. It was nice to play in the waves and get sandy.
We have always tried to keep a couple meals on hand in our packs, and this time it came in handy to cook up some ramen and hit the hay. Our trip to the coast only took us two hours so we spent the morning slowly departing and cruised down the beach to find something to eat. I decided to go for the lobster, thinking it was fresh and would be like the lobster at home. To my dismay it wasn’t tasty, just had a yuck taste, I can only hope it won’t make me sick. We soon discovered the surf town that was hiding this whole time, I was a little bummed out we didn’t stay in one of the sweet little hostels there, I didn’t know that this town existed or I would have made the choice to stay in El Tunco.
We ventured back to San Salvador and found the TicaBus station. It was in the shady part of town. After reliving our stomach of hunger with some papusas we quickly returned to the station. From what we have experienced, TicaBus stations always have a hotel conencted to them for convince. The hotel would be $12 per person, or we could just stay up in shifts until we met that 4:30am mark for our departure to Nicaragua. As we were deliberating the guy said he did have one with a single bed, Mateo went with him to see the room and I watched the bags. The station itself didn’t feel too creepy but we knew that staying in after dark would be a good idea. The room was number 412 and it was somewhat of a maze to get to, it felt much like a jail cell that was located on the roof.
Literally on the roof, it did have a fan in the concrete room, and good ventilation. I slept well after I watch “how to train your dragon.” 4:30 came fast and then a knock on the door with a little voice saying Nicaragua, we reply with “Si” and pack up and head down our little rat maze to the lobby. The bus ride is long and tiering but comfortable. Mateo has really developed his skills of sleeping on the bus (probably why I have so much blogging done as well) no one to talk to and I’m not at skilled in bus sleeping. Little to our knowledge the bus also stopped at the other nicer bus terminal, we would have stayed there over our little shady one if we would have known. Since we have traveled with TicaBus most of our border crossings have been so easy. Our bags have not even been searched yet. I would like to come back and visit Honduras, we have heard it is beautiful, we skipped through Honduras to save time. We will be back.
El Salvador just had a civil war, it ended in 1992. This is an interesting thought to me because I would have been a child when it was going on. We visited an awesome Museum today, it was all about the civil war in El Salvador. Within the last thirty years El Salvador has experienced a great amount of pain. Raùl told us this museum isn’t popular among many Salvadorians because it is about the war. History helps create who we are so much. Museo de la Palabra y Imagen, what a cool museum full of artifacts and photos. I am so glad that we took the time we did in San Salvador to get to know this beautiful yet heartbreaking city.
I had read about a botanical garden, I really like botanical Gardens so we went searching for it. The bus took us to within 2 kilometers of the garden. We start walking into what feels like an industrial area. Smoke stacks and semi-trucks. I was sure we were going the wrong way. We had seen a couple signs for the garden. As we maneuvered around the Bimbo bread plant we finally saw an entrance. It was strange that this beautiful garden was tucked away behind this industrial area. As we entered, we bought a bag of food to feed the turtles and fish. It looked and smelled like dog food, I didn’t know turtles/fish were into the same thing as dogs. The entry fee into the park was 1$. El Salvador is cheap, it cost about 25 cents to ride the bus, sometimes 30, and for long distances a dollar. We spent a couple of hours roaming the gardens, feeding the fish and turtles and spotting iguanas. My favorite sections of the garden were the orchids and also the giant bamboo. I have never seen bamboo this large, reaching into the sky and bigger than the diameter of my head.
Once we were back into the central area we walked down to a church we had read about. Iglesia el Rosario. It is located in the heart of San Salvador, this meant that we would be walking through all the markets and close to the soccer stadium. As we approached the church I was baffled by its exterior appearance. It looks almost like a factory of some sort, many churches are very distinguishable from the outside with their tall steeples and baroke decorations. Once we entered the church it was beautiful, high rounded ceiling and multicolored glass. Arriving to the church at 5pm the sun was shining perfectly through the glass making all the colored glass illuminate perfectly.
We walked the market and found a good place to sit down. At first the markets drew me in, and after seeing so many I now try to avoid them unless there is something I need.
We found the TicaBus terminal around 12pm the next day. We left all of our gear at the hotel right next to the station, TicaBus terminals typically have cheap hotels associated with them, this we did not know. We went to find lunch to burn time before our bus departure. We have a small bag we carry with our passports and water so they are always with us and never left anywhere. Our trip to San Salvador from here should only take four hours. We are still traveling gringo style the quickest way to places with optimal comfort. Even if that optimal comfort is not comfortable at all, we still haven’t taken any airplanes yet.it is strange to think our journey has only been by land a bit of sea.
The TicaBus is air conditioned and has a movie playing. No English subtitles, I try and take this time to write blogs, sleep, read and make bracelets. During my time in San Cristobal Laura and Lander taught me the simplest macramé bracelet, and in Antigua I bought some waxed string. My bracelets have been improving dramatically. Immediately after crossing the border we stepped off the TicaBus and and bought ourselves some pupusas, some wonderful ladies were selling them to the bus goers. Mateo introduced me to pupusas in Seattle, where he lived there was a Salvadorian eatery, Tico Rico. One of our goals while in El Salvador was to find ourselves some pupusas, (we ate pupusaa, at least once a day while there).
We arrived in San Salvador, the Capital, and took a taxi down to the central bus station. We will be meeting a couch surfer host named Raùl. He has a policy that if he hosts people that they stay two nights and not just one. Then he will not be just a one night layover for backpackers. When we heard this we both agreed to stay two nights. You never know what you’re getting with couch surfing, this guy was extremely eccentric, lived alone with his dogs and had a very interesting demeanor. He was also helpful and nice, but just a strange dude. I was glad we took the time to tour around San Salvador. Discovering the balance of tour and travel is hard, we want to get to Brazil and we want to explore the places that we are passing through as well.
We departed early the next morning, a great 8 hour drive was ahead of us. After finishing our tasty pancakes and eggs we boarded the truck which would take us to the town of Lanquín, then we would get on to a shuttle that would get us to our connection to head to Guatemala City. I’m going to miss the wonder I have for cocoa trees, what a strange and interesting tree, the only tree that grows seeds from the trunk! Our bus ride was long, our final mini bus into Guatemala city was spacious, with high ceilings. One of the guys had some unstable intestinal issues, we asked the bus driver to stop. Of course this on a winding road and there were not many options for stopping the minibus. The driver said no, only 15 minutes away, we all started insisting that it was an emergency and finding a place to stop would be a good idea. Finally reluctantly he pulled over and the guy went running off the bus to find a cozy bush off the road. The driver stepped out and smoked a cigarette. This is one of my worst nightmares, being really sick while in transit. I have had some bad stomach aches and questionable intestines but never had to pull a bus over for an emergency.
The mini bus dropped us at a random street in Guatemala City, we were both convinced that the driver had forgotten that we needed to dropped off. The majority of bus operators like to be talking on their cell phone while in route. I don’t mind it really but when you’re passing through a city and need to get off it’s a bit concerning. We knew we needed to be in Zona 10 to catch the TicaBus the next day to San Salvador. It’s five kilometers away, we walked about halfway until we found a taxi with reasonable prices. He dropped us on a main road just close to where our loney planet guide said a cheap hotel was. The guide failed us with no hotel in sight. We started walking with our bags in search of a cheap hotel. We use the book again to try to find another recommended hotel, it failed us again. We quit using the book and just start searching for a place to stay for the night. We gradually were getting into the nicer side of Zona 10. And the hotels get nicer as well. Every hotel lobby we stepped into I could feel the staff notice that we had been traveling all day from bus to bus to taxi. My hair a mess, I was sticky and sweaty, and really tired of searching for a place to stay. It was less obvious when were outside searching on the street, and so much more obvious when stepping into those fancy lobbies. We continued ask if any one knew of a cheap hotel. In hindsight we should have headed toward the TicaBus terminal, but that’s hindsight. Finally we found a place for 45$ US dollars a night and rested. 45$ is what we would normally spend in a day or maybe two days. I guess it will have to do!
Mateo and I enjoyed a great breakfast of beans, plantains, and an omelette. Our group was really oversized, I was disappointed by this, so I kept pace on the hike and stayed towards the front of the group with Mateo. Our guide didn’t hold back on his pace, the first segment was hiking up to a veiw point of the limestone pools and then down the other side. I intend on being forced in to excellent hiking shape by the time I get home now that the bike is gone. With Mateo and I being too cheap to take taxis, we are getting closer and closer to being in shape. We then took an hour and a half to tour through the pools, this included jumping, climbing, swimming & sliding.
During this time I would have rather just been let loose to play around in the pools. It was still fun. After going back to the hostel to eat lunch we moved on to the caves. I have never been in a cave, it sounded scary, fun scary. These caves were pitch black so we all got candles and did a lot of swimming. The water was moving at a good pace, I’m glad I was wearing my sandals. I kicked many rocks under the water. The tour through caves is not a normal tour you would see in the states. Many parts of cave travel felt very dangerous, and exhilarating. Climbing up water drenched ladders and over small water falls, some times only being guided by a rope. It felt like if you were to slip in many parts you may obtain a severe back or head injury. Mateo and one of the other boys from Australia actually lead most of the travel through the caves, our guide was busy helping people though small cracks of the cave, literally. I felt like he was a bit handsy but I couldn’t really contest, I wasn’t interested in slipping or falling anywhere in the cave. Due to my astounding hight of 5’1″ I was swimming often. At the end of the cave our guide was pointing up so Mateo started climbing upward, as did I. Guide man was quickly behind me helping me up. He wasn’t too creepy just a bit, he also remembered my name the whole way and called me mi amore (my love). Mateo arrived at the top ledge. Oh my what did I just sign up for following Mateo upward. It was time for Mateo to jump, guide man said to just jump in the middle. So Mateo surely did. I didn’t give myself much hesitation time because that would only lead to fear. Of course it’s safe Mateo just jumped I got to to ledge and aimed for the middle. Thrilling success, and it was fun too! It also helped that I couldn’t see how far it was. Most of us had success, Tua one of the Swedish girls had a bit of a scrape on her knee from the jump, not too bad. We began our return. There were many natural slides in the cave,and just at the very end there was a cave hole that people were going down with the guide’s help. This I was not too excited about, there was no seeing on the other side or through the hole at all and the water was being pushed through quickly. I put my legs through and grabbed on to the knob on the other side of the hole. It shot me out to the group that was waiting on the other side. It was fun being shot through that hole. I did bump my hip good but that only ended in a bruise. Our guide stayed back with a couple of ladies that chose not to go through the hole. So we were on our own getting out, I was excited once we got to the end and I was able to see the light from outside. Many of our candles were gone or getting really short by this time.
We ended our tour with a lazy float down the river outside of the hostel, and jumping off a bridge. Mateo and I had bonded well with the family of Australians in our group and also the Swedish two that were sharing our room with us. We convinced one of the moms to have a commemorative shot of tequila with us. I think most people drink a lot of tequila here, I’m not a big fan of the stuff.
It’s really awesome to meet such random people when traveling, and to discover their reasons for being where they are.
We were picked up by a shuttle that we arranged the day before to go up Semuc Champey. This is a natural wonder. A series of limestone pools with a giant river that flows underneath them. The hostel we booked, recommended by Nate was right at the entrance to the pools and had a great river that ran past. It is still up in the air if we want to spend three nights or two. The shuttle ride is eight hours to get there, not too torturous either. Every blog that Mateo or I have read say we must do the tour, I’m not into tours but we are going to do it. After a senic drive through Guatemala’s countryside we arrived. The first thing I notice once we were on to dirt roads were the cocoa trees, they were everywhere, just growing wild. I couldn’t believe it. I had completely forgotten that this is where chocolate comes from! It only grows within 20 degrees of the equator. We really have arrived into an Emily paradise.
Moved into our dorm room for the next couple days and met the Swedish couple who were sharing it with us. Spent the evening playing jenga and had dinner. The food at the hostel was cheap and really tasty. That has been a theme on our trip, cheap and tasty, and when we do go to a real restaurant it’s is normally underwhelming and expensive. Street venders are typically safe or out of business. I wonder about the day when our luck runs thin and what that will look like. For now we live without fear!
I woke up at 6:30am, I am an early riser I like to enjoy the morning, our tour took off at 10am so I had time. I watched the lastest round of people leave and enjoyed listening to other peoples conversations about where they had come from and how they where getting to to their next destination. Not being on the bike has thrown us into somewhat of a backpacker whirlwind culture where many people talk of where they are from and where they are going. The culture of the country your in is some what lost in it all in a hostel, mainly all foreigners and English. I enjoy it and I don’t, I want to know who people are are not just where they have been or where they are going. Maybe who they are will all come later on, the Swedish people we met are really nice. I hope to find myself meeting them again but in Sweden.