In the time since my last post, I have:
quit my hostel job
swum through a canyon…
hiked an active volcano…
surfed in San Juan del Sur…
dived for a week on Little Corn Island, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua…
…and now I’m in Guatemala City.
I’ve only just arrived in Guatemala after a 2-day journey on Tica Bus – a Central American international bus company that I’d highly recommend. It cost about $53 to go from Managua to Guatemala City (passing through Honduras & El Salvador), and it was surprisingly comfortable. Except for the air conditioning. The buses were freezing!
*Side note: I can’t get used to air conditioning. There wasn’t any in Iraq, none in Antigua, and none in Nicaragua (except for the ATM vestibules, oddly enough). I think that air conditioning implies wealth, and thus chilling a building’s interior shines some sort of privilege on it. But to me, it’s just unnerving. I’d rather be hot and sweaty all the time than have to plunge between humid and icy. *
So let’s begin by debriefing Little Corn Island. There are two islands: Big Corn and Little Corn, so named because they were once a British protectorate on which corn was grown. I didn’t spend much time on Big Corn. I am, however, in love with Little Corn. Some island facts:
- It’s tiny; you can walk its circumference in 4 hours, and walk across the south side of the island in 15 minutes.
- There are no cars allowed on the island, so the only routes are meandering footpaths. It’s lush and heavily forested.
- The locals speak a really cool mix of Caribbean English, Nicaraguan Spanish, and Miskito (the indigenous Nicaraguan language).
- There are some foreigners; most of the tourist-frequented cafes and hotels, as well as both dive shops, are foreign-owned.
- The island is governed by a council of elders, the alcaldía, which doesn’t take too kindly to foreign-owned businesses but otherwise ensures that the island runs smoothly.
- Pan de coco, or coconut bread (loaves of white bread made with coconut milk), is sold by a few women on the island, usually twice per day. It is AMAZING. It’s a Caribbean coast thing. I asked on the mainland if they sold it, and they said they shipped it in from the coast for special occasions and ferias.
- The diving is awesome.
- Everyone is chill.
I came to Little Corn to dive. For diving, it’s incredibly cheap! I went to Dolphin Dive, and my combined Open Water & Advanced Open Water certifications cost me $450. In other countries, that figure would hover near $1000. And I saw nurse sharks, eagle rays, sea turtles, octopi, squid, puffer fish, bioluminescence, sea stars, and a hell of a lot more.
I love the people on the island. I was there for a week, and I felt like I just fit in. There are few places in the world that allow me to belong, especially those in which I stick out. As a white woman, in the places that I want to travel, I am obvious. And there are many reasons to exclude me from a culture. So an accepting culture is an absolute delight!
I wish I could have stayed there longer. I had already booked my flight, but I would have loved to cancel it and stay 2 weeks longer. In any case: if you want to take a great, affordable island vacation in a non-resort town, go to Little Corn.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
Before heading to Little Corn, I went to San Juan del Sur, a city on the pacific coast of Nicaragua. It’s touristy and beachy, but it has great surfing. And, well, sometimes you need to be in a town with other travellers. I thought it was the perfect break from small towns & villages. I got to take an excellent surf lesson with Casa Oro, a hostel I’d highly recommend. There’s a good bookstore, El Gato Negro, as well as good-quality clothing stores, and a variety of restaurants.
So the town’s ok, but the surfing’s wonderful.
This was so fun, I did it twice! Take a tour for around $20 per person, and two guides will take you hiking up to a mirador (lookout point) to look at the canyon from above. Then you’ll descend to the canyon, wade through the river until you get to a canoe, boat a little ways up the water, and begin your real trip. Over the next few hours, you’ll swim your way up the canyon, struggling across the current, via ropes and rocks. It’s really fun, but by the end of it you’ll be cold and tired. There are a bunch of places to go cliff-jumping, including the final 15-meter-high rock. After all is said and done, you can return to your original point by floating all the way down the river. It’ll take a few hours to go up the river, and about 5 minutes to float down it!
This is an active volcano near León, Nicaragua. You can hike up it with a guide (for between $25-$45) and see lava.
It. Is. INCREDIBLE.
You hike up at sunset (because that’s the best time to see the glow from the lava), until you get to the lip of a giant crater, at least the size of a few football fields. It’s a sheer, 120-meter drop to the lava. You can hear the lava and the gases roaring in the crater, and a strong smell of sulfur surrounds you. We ascended during a thunder- and lightning-storm (which is de rigeur during the rainy season).
Imagine: watching lava bubble and hearing it roar a hundred meters beneath your feet and smelling acrid sulphur in the air, while thunder crashes and lighting flashes over the lip of the crater. I swear, it was like standing atop Mount Doom.
I’m in Guatemala City, visiting some old friends from high school. When I was 17, I was in Sololá, Guatemala, for 2 weeks to help with a medical trip. My Guatemalan friends were at the time also high-schoolers who helped with medical translations. We only knew each other for about a week, and now I’m here, 6 years later, visiting them.
It’s odd, especially since we’ve all had 6 years to change. I was a little worried that we’d have nothing in common. And, well, we don’t have much! But we have enough to re-establish our relationships, renew our friendships.