In my last post, I talked about how thoroughly I screwed up traveling through El Salvador. (In short: no research, little to no knowledge of how the transportation works, virtually no tolerance for a lack of showers and rogue doggos).
But, while I still didn’t love El Salvador, I definitely didn’t hate it. Mostly, I feel sort of guilty for ragging on a place that most visitors rave about, especially when it’s in such a misunderstood country. So, I’m going to (very) briefly run through the things I did enjoy about El Salvador.
Can I call this an “edition” if it’s so far the only installment? I contend that yes, dear reader, I can; I have sucked at traveling in so many places. I can’t wait to write about them all. For now, let’s start with El Tunco, El Salvador, my personal traveling nadir and first real foray into solo travel.
I had high hopes for El Salvador, which no doubt contributed to my frustration when everything went to shit there. I had read all about the Ruta de las Flores, the food festival in Juayua, and the beach towns of El Cuco and El Tunco. I had vague plans to spend 2 weeks in the country, which made me feel pretty cool; most people I knew skipped it altogether. The popular option: taking a $60 tourist shuttle straight from León, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala. I’ve got a lot of self-mocking to do here, so I won’t harp on this one, but yeah— I was feeling pretty confident in my abilities to navigate El Salvador solo.
Let’s just break this down into a list of failures. There were many.
Yeah, that’s right— it’s June and I’m publishing a post about my 2018 travel plans. What can I say? I’ve done very little this year. (Just kidding?)
At this point, I hardly remember what it’s like to spend 18 hours on an abused overnight bus, or gingerly insert myself into a cold shower before catching (yet another) bus. Yet, these are the memories that propelled me through the last year of saving and planning. And look at me now! I’ve finally rubbed together enough coins to go on another trip!
Even before I landed there, I had a feeling I would love Nicaragua. And if I hadn’t completely fallen for it in Granada or Isla de Ometepe, I did in León.
I had gone on a sort of self-guided tour of Granada, passed through the markets at Rivas and Masaya, hiked around Ometepe, and made a brief stop at San Juan del Sur, the beach town made infamous by its Sunday Funday bar crawl. But so far, I felt like I hadn’t really gotten to know the country— like I had been holding it at arm’s length. In León, I finally felt immersed.
Everything about Ometepe revolves around its volcanoes; geologically, the island grew up around them, and today its main streets circle their bases. Even the island’s original name, Ometepl, comes from the Nahuatl ome tepetl: two mountains. Basically, they’re a big deal.
I didn’t know any of that when I arrived there, though—hiking Volcán Maderas was barely on my radar. My adventurous, way-more-fit-than-me French friends from Granada talked me into it. And by “talked me into it” I obviously mean they talked about it amongst themselves in French, and then I got an abbreviated version of the plan in broken Spanish the day before we set off. So, you could say I was pretty prepared.
Out of the midst of the beautiful Lake Nicaragua spring two magnificent pyramids, clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine, whose summits pierce the billowy clouds. They look so isolated from the world and its turmoil so tranquil, so dreamy, so steeped in slumber and eternal repose.
– Mark Twain
Isla de Ometepe: a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua, with UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status, 5 distinct ecosystems, twin volcanoes connected by an isthmus of ancient lava, an impressive array of rare species, and thousands of ancient petroglyphs. Like most of its visitors, I came here looking for some vague blend of quietude, isolation, and what guidebooks like to call “adventure.” Ometepe is known for offering all three, which is impressive when you consider its proximity to other, more developed tourist hubs.
When I booked my flight to Nicaragua, I knew I wanted to land in Managua…but book it straight to Granada. Kicking off my trip in a massive urban center didn’t sound great, and I had heard great things about the colonial city to the south.
Skipping the Nicaraguan capital did make me feel sort of guilty, but Granada is sort of like the de facto capital of Nicaragua, I reasoned—or at least one of them, alongside León.
I am verrrrry behind in getting this website up—like 2 years behind. Back in 2016, I was all gung-ho about documenting my trip through Central America, Mexico, Colombia, and Hawaii. But then… I didn’t. And life kept happening. Now, as I’m solidifying plans for my next big trip, I’m playing catch up. Before I kick off my next international trip, I’ll be writing up some of the stops I made through Central America and Hawaii, formally cataloging all the photos and notes that I’ve been sitting on for the last year.
Before I dive into the details, here’s a quick roundup of what I spent 7 months in Latin America doing.