We wake up and have a great breakfast, anything we eat from here is good. We hear the dirt bikes pull up. Hoping they don’t require a lot of paperwork or proof of license because Timmy’s wallet got pocketed at a carnival and he has no proof of his license. Mateo of course has all his documents. The bikes look a bit rough, and the helmets provided look rougher. They are just these little bucket helmets and with all the gear we have normally been wearing would of consisted of riding pants, jacket, gloves and a nice full face helmet. We are in pants, a long sleeve shirt and helmet. We have read about horror stories that led us to believe we needed to thoroughly inspect the bike before renting it. So Mateo video recorded both bikes to insure we would receive our deposits back. Timmy took the bike out for a spin to familiarize himself again, as did Mateo. Tua and I donned our helmets and hoped on. There was no deposit, no checking of license, we were off. I was scared our bike sounded like it would soon shake to pieces if we hit any bumps. Timmy and Tua’s bike seemed to start up well and have better acceleration. As for Mateo and my bike it had trouble starting and going, our electric starter was broken and our kick starter was missing a pin so the rod you would kick down would go flying off every time you would kick it down. Oh and the kick starter would not start the engine very well or at all. So here I am, a motor bikes starter, Mateo and I would both start pushing it, and he would hop on and I would continue to push. If we were lucky we would have a down hill to help, we sometimes were not so lucky. When I first got on the bike I was so nervous and just closed my eyes most of the time. I tried to get Mateo to slow down, I felt so naked without my gear. Eventually I was used to the feeling of no gear and speed, and by speed I mean not very fast just fast enough to get us places. We saw many sights Danny set us up with a map and a time line to see places.
We made it all around the island, and even on to a road that was all large rocks and dirt for 10 kilometers. This was one of the roughest areas to push start the bike. We finished the ride with a sunset and going back In to the main town of Moyogalpa to find an ATM. Right as we arrived to the atm the power went out, it started raining and the darkness came on quickly. We all were tired and made our way back to the hostel. Just about everyone on the island road bikes, at all times of the day. There were many bikers on the road as we rode back to the hostel, I just wanted to get them all reflective gear, I wonder how many people are hit by cars on this island.
We step off the ferry San Juan del Sur is a very small town. The ferry dock is just a dirt road out into the water. I wonder if staying on dry land would have been a better idea. The ferry ride was great not even a bump, we had read that approaching the shore it could get really wavy and there was a good chance that even of you were down in the enclosed area of the boat that you to would be splashed by waves. Not for our trip. As we are walking down this dirt road to the town we pass a mini van, I saw some Americans that we encountered in Leon getting onto it. For a brief second I question if we should ask to get on it thinking it would land us in the bigger city but I soon dismiss that and fallowed everyone else. Once we hit the main road we ask some local about getting to Moyogalpa. The locals said there are no taxi and the busses are finished for the day, it is dark out. Mateo had already looked up a hostel, the directions were as followed go to the main road turn right and you’ll find us. With no other options we did just that. I felt weird with the darkness surrounding us and only a couple locals in sight. We soon arrive at Hostel Sinai. A young boy greets us with a giant smile and good English. After getting into our rooms we sat down for a bit to eat. This little hostel had a welcoming family feeling to it, wifi and a restaurant. We order quickly because the lady working the kitchen will not go home until we have hot food in front of us. Danny tells us of the lack of rain, the rainy season should have already started there but it has not rained once. Shortly after informing us of this it starts to pour rain. Danny was really helpful, we told him of our want to ride motorcycles around the island, many books have said it is the most efficient way to tour the island. We could see many sights in one day instead of only a couple with many hours of hot chicken busses. Mateo was aching to get on a motorcycle. He spends some of his internet time looking at craigslist for motorcycles, and a replacement engine for his own. Timmy said he knew how to drive as well so Danny sets it up for two motorcycles and four helmets to arrive at 8 am the next morning. We are eating dinner and the power goes out. The power goes out here randomly and stays out for long periods of time it is understandable. The power plant gets over worked and the power goes out. Many people are saving for solar panels, at the hostel Danny has already set up enough solar panels to generate electricity to keep the coolers running when the power shuts down. Danny is impressive for a 25 year old. Practically running the hostel on his own and also the restaurant. The power come on and off throughout the night making sleep difficult. I don’t mind sleeping in heat but when the fan shuts down I start to heat up to a point I cannot sleep.
We woke up and cooked beans, rice and eggs. Yes we are officially Central Americans, beans, rice and eggs for breakfast by choice. I am missing the awesome salsas of Mexico and the pupusas of El Salvador. We packed up our tent that still smelled of camp fire, went to catch the chicken bus. No taxi this time, we will be heading all the way to Ometepe, an island made of two volcanos, and surrounded by fresh water that was once salt water. This time we did not have any idea as to how we will get there, chicken buses yes but connecting all those buses unknown. We get into Matagalpa, and we are at the North bus station and need to be at the South bus station. Times like this Mateo and I would have walked but with no knowledge on how long it is going to take us to Ometepe we chose to take a taxi, splitting it four ways isn’t bad. We find a bus to Managua, another chicken bus another couple hours.
It feels like we have been in an armpit all day, a sweaty arm. The schools bus windows do come down but they don’t help with the sweat that puddles in every area of my body, as well as my legs that stick to the seats. Oh and do you remember the wheel wells that come up under the seats, I hope our next seats are in a different area of the bus or no chicken bus at all. We countiue on, we are trying to make it to the island and have been fortunate to get this far with no problems. We grab some Coke-a-cola to substitute a meal, Managua to Rivas and Rivas to San Jorge. I feel a bit like we are on the amazing race. We get of the bus in the central part of Rivas. We talked with a taxi driver said we needed an ATM and to get to San Jorge. He took us to a gas station, he told us that there was no more ferry to the major town on the island. We said to take us San Jorge anyways we would find a hotel and depart early the next morning for Ometepe. Our taxi driver warned us that we should not go out at night because it wasn’t safe. Our hotel was right right next to the ferry terminal. Our taxi was gone quickly. It appreared that there was a line to the ferry doc, we chatted with with the guards at the gates, the 530pm ferry was late, we can get on the ferry to San Jose Sur, not our original destination on the island, but still on the island. Some one told us that the main town is only 10kilometers north of where we were heading. So on to the fery we went.
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.