20 January 2012

Two Amigos Conquer Central America

The winter break from school provided me with an opportunity to take a trip. Irish travel buddy Mike Kennedy was already in NY for the holidays, so the opportunity went from "trip" to "ridiculous adventure" pretty quickly.

As many of you know, Mike and I are involved in a lifelong contest to visit every country on Earth. The idea of visiting just one country per trip is preposterous. Sometimes we go a little overboard....to prove the point, I present Exhibit A....a 13 day, 7 country race through Central America.


My flight got in before Mike's, so I was waiting for him when he came out of the airport. I had Van Halen "Panama" blasting from the speakers of my iPhone...and we started the adventure.

We had arranged for someone from the hostel to pick us up, so we eventually found a guy holding a sign with my name on it. The sign also had another name on it..... and thats how we met our first travel buddy of the trip, Etienne from Montreal. The 20 minute car ride gave us all a chance to introduce ourselves and make a plan for the evening.


The "plan" wasn't very complicated.... "hey, the beers at the hostel are only a dollar!"...As it turns out, the hostel was great. Some hostels are quiet, some are not. This one was definitely geared towards hanging out. It had a huge backyard area with picnic tables and a giant fridge full of $1 beers. Our room was right off this area....kinda perfect.

Day one in Panama, complete. :)

The hostel provides free pancake batter and coffee in the morning for "all you can eat pancakes", but the pans they have are all crap so the pancake breakfast became more of a "pile of partially cooked pancake mess" breakfast.

Etienne and some other backpackers mauling their pancakes

On the advice of Matt Walsh (see Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia blog posts) Mike and I made our number one priority in Panama to see the Parque Nacional, the only rain forest inside the city limits of a capital city in the world. 

So off we went....but wait! On the way out of the hostel we run into another guy, start chatting, ask him what his plans are....he has none....join us! So off we go, now a group of 4...AND guess where James is from? Montreal! TWO French Canadians! Watch out rainforest here we come.

Ok this is where the previous night's Panamanian beer bonanza doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore. Hiking, Heat, Hills.....damn you Panamanian beer.

Playing "Panama" in Panama's Parque Nacional Rain Forest with Crazy Canadian Etienne

We hiked around for 3 hours or so and covered all the trails in the park. We got to see lots of cool jungle-y stuff, loads of bugs and lost about 10 lbs in sweat!

It was a great start to the trip.

Panama City
My two favorite things about traveling are meeting new people and eating amazing food...and this trip had it all. That night the four of us went all out at a local restaurant.

Shrimp Ceviche

James and some yummy fish dish

Mike's dinner. Two fish fillets with seafood stuffing in between...gigantic

My barbecue chicken. Scrumptious.
 We asked some people where to go for drinks and they said Rana Dorada....(thats Spanish for Golden Frog) and wouldnt ya know it, it was an Irish Pub! A perfect ending to a great stay in Panama.

The next day, we got up early and made our way to the airport. One country down, 6 to go.

Costa Rica

We arrived in San Jose around mid-day and as with Panama, had arranged for a lift from the airport. This hostel was a small family run place. Basically, they had converted the bedrooms in their house to dorms. Very well organized, they gave us loads of info, pointed us in the right direction and set us off on a day of exploring downtown San Jose. We had heard from many people, as well as read online, that San Jose is crap and you should only go there as necessary to connect to other places in Costa Rica.

To those people I say, you're missing out. It took Mike and I about 30 minutes to walk from our hostel to the central shopping area on Avenida Central. We cut through a park and got to see some different neighborhoods. The main pedestrian shopping street was very nice and modern and we got to pop into one of the must see sights of San Jose, The Mercado Central (Central Market) which has been around since 1880.

Its a maze like warren of passages that go from flea-markety to farmers market to small places to eat and back again.

Why eat fast food when traveling when you can sit in an old Costa Rican market and get some questionable quality local food!

We got two seats at the busiest food stall (always a good sign when its busy) and ordered what the locals were eating.

I had the fried chicken, rice, plantains, cole slaw, spicy noodles and spicy chutney stuff (above)

Mike had the spicy sausage, plantains and cole slaw (below)

It was all decent...and we didn't die...so a successful lunch experience.

After a quiet night, we got up super early to catch a flight.

For this leg of the journey, Mike had booked us on two puddle jumpers. One from San Jose to Liberia in northern Costa Rica, then another from Liberia to Managua, Nicaragua.

The planes were small, which is always fun. Our pilot got in with his flight book...and a sandwich. He started flipping switches and turning knobs, while the 20 year old co-pilot, gave us a somewhat awkward safety briefing. "Welcome aboard flight blah blah blah to Liberia. In the event of an emergency, we're all screwed because our plane is the size of a suburban...Good Luck!"

I was very tempted to say "Hey, can I land this puppy?"

The entire time I was thinking "So this plane is powered by one propeller in the nose? How does that work exactly"


Country # 3 in 4 days, not bad. Nicaragua was going to be our longest stretch in one country, 3 nights. Mike had arranged for a shuttle bus to take us directly from the airport to San Juan del Sur, about 2 hours away on the Pacific coast. Its a small place but a popular destination for surfers.

It would turn out to be, possibly, my favorite stop on our trip.

San Juan del Sur is the perfect size place. It has restaurants, bars etc, but not too many...and they are small reasonable places, not over the top touristy megabars etc.

When booking our accommodations, Mike had inadvertently booked us at a Girls Surf School on the beach. As it turns out, there were no classes that week, and we were the only ones staying there. That could have been awkward!

It was right on the beach in town, which was very convenient to everything. The first day we walked around town, made friends with the guy who ran the bar/restaurant across the street and did lots of nothing.

It felt like we were more on vacation then blasting through 7 countries in 13 days. After already having covered so much ground in 4 days, it was nice to just relax.

Shrimp and Tomato yummyness

We ate LOADS of seafood...I mean, the sea IS right there!

The first of many lobsters we ate on this trip...$4!
As with everywhere else, we met other people traveling and had lots of laughs...and a few beers.

Day Two in San Juan del Sur also happened to be New Years Eve. Today's mission, frolicking in the surf like a couple of kids. It was really fun. We had a bunch of good laughs and then stuffed ourselves full of more seafood.

Clams, Clams and more Clams!

By 5pm we were stuffed and ready to ring in the New Year. We had heard from other travelers that there was a huge New Years rave being held on the beach about 30 mins north of town. Although that sounded like a once in a lifetime experience, maturity/reality chimed in with "how will we get there and back." and "ugh...sounds like a big to-do". We opted to stay in town and see if we could find a cool local place.

We still had 6 or 7 hours til midnight, so we decided to wander around and play it by ear. We headed away from the beach and were walking around when Mike spied an Irish flag and soccer jersey hanging in a very small bar, so we decided to head in and investigate.

...and so began New Years Eve.

We saddled up to the bar, ordered a couple of beers and met the owners of the bar, a couple of Americans from North Carolina, Cory and Mandy.

6 beers later, its like we were old friends and Mike and I had come to Nicaragua to visit them! A perfect place to celebrate New Years. Other Ex-Pats came and went throughout the night, Mike and I stayed parked at the bar allllllllll night. Cory had whipped up some fresh guacamole, we shot the shit all night long and had a really good time just hanging out.

Nice crunchy chips, guac and salsa...whats better? nothing!
A very good evening indeed.

Mike saying goodbye to 2011...i think the guy in the background was too?
 The evening was chocked full of fun. At one point, some of their friends came in with a birthday cake for another friend. Cheap beer, delicious guacamole  AND free birthday cake? This place is amazing!

They even had free champagne at midnight. New Years couldnt have worked out better (unless of course I had the Mrs. with me)

Republika Bar in San Juan del Sur...can't recommend it highly enough. Thanks Cory and Mandy!

...but wait, theres more!

Happy New Year!

Sitting at the same bar for 6 hours...we MIGHT have had too much to drink...but hey who cares, its New Years!

Stay tuned...more to come from Nicaragua and the rest of Central America.

1 comment:

Alejandra Flores said...

Missed El Salvador -.-