Monday, February 15, 2010

Visa Run: Nicaragua, Sidetrek: Turrialba

A Continuación...

Dusty bus ride to Santa Teresa

Despite the slow pace and disorganization that seems to rule the land here, I was able to meet with some of my students in Santa Teresa last week to do placement testing (conversing in English) and scheduling for classes. The meetings didn't really go as planned, but it was really nice to finally meet some students. They are the real reason I'm here, and I'm looking forward to spending time working with them and getting to know them better. I also finally got in touch with the Junta Educativo in Montezuma (didn't know that's who I was looking for) and they informed me that I would need an official letter stating my request to use the elementary school for my night classes and that we would have to schedule a meeting before anything would be decided. They didn't seem too keen on giving me a set of keys and full access to the school because apparently there were some problems last now my mission is to convince them that I'm trustworthy, the project is important, and that they should be honored to help us out. In the midst of trying to work these things out, I realized my 3 month tourist visa in Costa Rica was almost up! I honestly didn't feel like taking another trip because I was just getting settled in Cabuya, but I also didn't want to start my classes and then immediately have to take a week off, so I decided to go ahead and make a run for the border...

San Juan del Sur

One of the closest tourist spots in Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur, a colorful little beach town on the Southern Pacific side, just about an hour drive from the border of Costa Rica at Peñas Blancas. I decided that's where I'd go to spend my 3 days a fuera del pais. The trek began last Saturday morning at 6 AM when I got a taxi to Montezuma and caught a bus to the ferry at Paquera. I was planning to do all local buses, but I ended up catching a Trans Nica bus in Puntarenas and it was fabulous - air conditioning and movies too! It made crossing the border a lot easier and faster with the help of the bus crew. Somehow I still managed to get screwed out of about $20 when I exchanged my money with one of the "official" cambio dudes. I changed sixty dollars and got the right amount in Nicaraguan Cordovas, but then I pulled out some Colones and the guy punched in some numbers in his calculator that seemed I took the money and got back on the bus only to realize I had lost money on the transaction. Luckily, it wasn't much, but I learned that with these types of things it's best to SLOW DOWN...think about everything thoroughly and do not feel rushed. That's my advice.

Fire Dancer on the Beach

I arrived in SJDS about an hour before sunset and headed to the Casa de Oro Hostel. There I met some great people and we headed out to the bars to celebrate Bob Marley's birthday in true beach reggae style. Beer is only $1 in the bar in most places in Nicaragua, and the Flor de Caña Rum is cheap and delicious.

On day two I got a ride up to Playa Maderas which is a sweet little spot with great surf breaks and beautiful sunsets. You can stay at a super rustic hostel there or set up camping tents just down the beach if you like. It's ultra tranquilo and beautiful, and we enjoyed a day full of sun, surf, and cerveza.

Playa Maderas

We met some Nicas (Nicaraguans) and started chatting it up in broken Spanish about tourism and the weather, and then a random gringo carnie showed up which turned the conversation to sword swallowing, leading to demonstrations with knifes and platanos and plenty of laughter over the sexual metaphors that we all understood no matter what language was being spoken...JAJAJA! (that's hahaha in Spanish)

Haircut in Nicaragua

Later on we met some peeps from Florida who run a surf company here:

Check it out:

...and we also met their awesome friend Amy the hair stylist who ended up giving me a (desperately needed) free haircut! Thanks girl! My haircut rocks! We watched a little bit of the super bowl and then headed out for some grub at a local bar (fish sandwich, fries, and a beer, $5).

Danielle & I enjoying some Victorias

My two new gringa friends Danielle and Mega were planning to go to Isla Ometepe together so I jumped on board. I had heard great things about the island and wanted to go, but didn't realize that it was possible with the little time that I had. Turns out it was only 2 hours from SJDS! We left on Monday morning and linked up with 5 other guy travelers on the ferry boat of which is an Aussie guy named Dan who is driving a Jeep from the Arctic Ocean in Northern Alaska all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego, the southern-most point of South America.

You can check out his blog here:

Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe

The 8 of us spent the next two days exploring Ometepe together, which is a gorgeous island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua made up of two huge active volcanoes. The island was actually formed by volcanic eruptions and there are smaller islands around it that were made when the lava spewed into the surrounding lake water. We camped out the first night and had a great view of the majestic "Concepcíon," the bigger of the island's two volcanoes. We made a fire on the beach while sipping Flor de Caña, and then woke up early to do some hiking, wildlife spotting, and swimming in the island's fresh water mineral springs.

Ometepe Crew

We stayed the second night at Finca Magdelena which I would highly recommend. Cheap ($5 a bed), friendly, and it has beautiful views. We drank $1.80 litres of Toña (yummy Nica brew) and ate full plate dinners for about $4. Perfect.

This is where it gets tiring. On Wednesday I had to travel all day to get back to San Jose. I left the finca at 7 AM on a "chicken bus" : (Spanish: "camioneta") a colloquial English name for a colorful modified and decorated US school bus and transit bus that transports goods and people between communities in Honduras and Guatemala.

On the Chicken Bus

The word "chicken" refers to the fact that rural Guatemalans regularly transport live animals on such buses, a practice that visitors from other countries often find remarkable. The buses are also commonly used in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica.

3 buses, 3 taxis, 1 ferry and 13 hours later, I arrived in Costa Rica's capital city. Needless to say I was exhausted, filthy dirty from all the dusty roads, and super thankful for a hot shower. Aside from the heat and dirt and waiting in immigration lines, crossing the border was fairly easy and I felt pretty safe. It would definitely be a bit sketchier if I didn't speak Spanish...but I felt good about getting across on my own and not getting a bad exchange rate this time!

Since I was already in San Jose and it was almost the weekend...I figured I would go spend a few days with my friend Liz in the mountain town of Turrialba, only about an hour and a half bus ride to the east of San Jose. Turrialba is mainly known for it's cheese and it's rivers. The Pacuare River is a big rafting and kayaking destination, with class IV rapids and beautiful canyon views. It was named one of the top 10 river trips by National Geographic.

Waterfall near Turrialba

Liz is another volunteer English teacher working with the same organization which placed her in Turrialba. Her classes are mostly raft guides and other Ticos who work in tourism there. It was great to spend some time with a girlfiend, and she showed me some really cool spots over there like the Santa Rosa Waterfall, which was unreal! It must be almost 100 feet tall, and it just pours over the edge of the cliff with so much fuerza! The area surrounding it is lush and green, super alive and clean, and aside from a few young locals we were the only people there. At the top there's a natural sliding rock into another swimming hole...muy divertido!!!

On Saturday we hit the river for a rafting adventure. The water level is a bit low right now so it wasn't as fast as normal, but it was definitely exhilarating! The river winds through the vast Pacuare Canyon and passes through the Chirripo Indian Reserve where some indiginous people still live today. The water was clear and made up of wonderful shades of light and dark green.

Rafting Rio Pacuare

Our guide was great and our group was a fun mix of English and Spanish speakers, so we got the full tour in both languages (Liz and I were loving it). Liz saw several of her students on the river guiding tours (what a great job), and we even saw some toucans! But no trip to Turrialba would be complete without a taste of the local Saturday night after several cocktails at the local bars (where BTW we were almost the only foreigners in sight), we headed over to the 24 hour diner for some fried cheese and tortillas...late night munchies hit the spot YUMMMMM!

Good times across the board...but I am so happy to be home and honestly (I can't believe I'm saying this) I don't feel like traveling again for a while! We'll see how long that lasts, but I'm just craving a little stability and I'm sooooo ready to get into my teaching groove. Wish me luck. Love to ALL!

Current song stuck in my head: Agarra la mano (Sean Paul)

Current mission: buy a CUADRACYCLO (ATV) - decided to go with 4 wheels instead of 2...para mi seguridad

Current local news: Laura Chinchilla was elected as the first woman president in Costa Rica! You go girl!

Current weather back in Cabuya: hot and sunny with a high chance of dust storms

Current state of mind: delirious...


  1. Nice! Glad you and Liz got to meet up! I'm jealous you get so much traveling done - it's hard to check out the country down here in Osa :)

  2. what great post! I love the pacuare river, this is the best river in Costa Rica!