Central America

By beginswithq

Star 13

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On the night of my flight, I enjoy one final dinner in the modern world at Quynh and Uffe's home. After a delicious steak and wine dinner was done we finish it with some delicious chocolate truffles.

I arrive at SFO. I was feeling proud I packed very light for my two month trip; one carry on bag and one shoulder bag. The fantasies of my future adventures playing in my head were abruptly interrupted by the TSA security alarm. A guard immediately walked up and asked me to step aside. The chocolate truffle wrapper in my pocket had triggered the alert. The stern man escorted me to a back room. He had a very serious look. He snapped on the rubber gloves and gave me the full North to South. Just like my other "first time", it was over in two minutes and I cried a little at the end.

I am excited for this trip. In searching for the best (cheapest) destination in Central America, I found a super cheap ticket to Cancun, Mexico for $141 bucks. That's not even enough money to put gas into the plane. Some years back I traveled to Guatemala for a work project so I had some clue of what was to come. The 3 years of Spanish classes in high school will come in handy when I need to whip out some broken Spanish. I didn't bother to immunize myself because there were too many countries to get shots for. No malaria pills either. Not even a bottle of Robitussin. I did pack shades, sandles, and sunscreen. I was ready.

I know what the American life is like: all work and no travel. So when I am in between jobs I immediately get on a plane and don't look back. My previous job ended right before the holidays. I planned to travel all through the Christmas season and then some. I rented my SF apt out. Everything fell into place, now it's time for some fun.

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After the plane landed, the shuttle took me to town but first it heads through the Hotel Zone, aka the strip, aka little America. It was a long series of private all inclusive hotels along the water all joined by a commercial downtown. In the downtown there was Niketown, Forever 21, McDonalds and so on. American couples lined the streets walking in flip flops doing their casual shopping. The sight of this place made me feel like I was still in America. My great travel adventure had not begun. In my mind I was pretending this was a transit point and that my adventure would begin later.

After thirty minutes on the shuttle we finally reached the city of Cancun and that was the first time I saw regular Mexicans who live in Mexico. I was happy to be in a hostel away from the Hotel Zone and right in the heart of the residential downtown. Finally I was able to breath.

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I wasn't interested in doing anything in Cancun except the Underwater Museum. I was going to skip everything else since I knew it was going to be overpriced tourist traps. But there was one place I had to go, the notorious Coco Bongo.

Out of curiosity and peer pressure, I decided to see what one of the world's greatest party clubs was like. The price was $80. That included free drinks (which tasted very watered down). It was more of a non stop theater show as opposed to a club.

The hostel residents and I took a bus into the Hotel Strip where we queued up for this place like it was a Disneyland ride. Upon entering we followed a massive crowd to a big banquet like room were we all stood on the dance floor in the center. In the balcony above us, the performers put on a show. The hyped up music filled the room as the performers danced, lip synced, performed acrobatic feats, some even suspended themselves from ropes and swung around the room. The dancers flexed their muscles, shook their tits, and gyrated their asses to be beat. The music seemed to change songs every 30 seconds and the performers changed costumes every other minute. The themes went from Moulon Rouge to Spider Man. Strobe lights flashed as confetti dropped down from the ceiling almost every other song.

For me it was too much. It was loud and over stimulating. The other party goers were having a blast. This is the legendary Cancun party scene after all and I arrived to the party 20 years too late. I was kind of disgusted. I am here for the culture and people of this region. I wasn't impressed with the Vegas dance and light show. I left the club early on my own.

Star 7

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My friend Uli had been here. I read about it in many websites. I was so excited for this new attraction.

The story goes like this: A couple of years back hurricane El Niño devastated the coral reefs of this region. In order for the reefs to grow and come back to life here, the humans had to stay away and let the reefs grow on their own. But the town of Cancun still needed an attraction for the divers and snorkelers. So they came up with the idea of making an underwater museum on another part of the bay. They hired a famous British sculptor Jason deCaires. He made molds from local volunteers. The hundreds of statues were then submerged in the bay. Over time the coral began to grow on the statues, uniting art and nature to make a truly unique exhibit.

The experience of this dive was absolutely surreal. To be 20 feet underwater, breathing like vulnerable human out of his element, and being surrounded by a large group of statues of people was soooo strange. The experience was very enjoyable except for one thing: Coco Bongo's revenge.

I had a mean hang over from the night before. On the way boat ride in I was already feeling the headache. By the time we descended to statues, I was at my limit. I needed to puke. The diving leader was taking care of another group member who was too far away from me. I was on my own. I prepared myself and recalled all the nights of partying and what was about to happened. I needed to have a controlled vomit and remember not to inhale afterwards.

"You can do this. You're a professional party goer. You have been known to puke, clean up after yourself, then go back to the party. You can do this." I thought to myself. And with that took off my breathing apparatus and vomited underwater for the first time in my life. It was strange. Two things happened. Firstly, the vomit came out of my mouth then went straight up to the surface. Secondly, the fishes swarmed around the vomit and ate it all up. After that I was right as rain.

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I go on a tour to see the famous Mayan Ruins at Chichén Itzá. The entire complex was well excavated and beautiful. The math and engineering precision of this ancient pyramid was very impressive. I also learn that there are over 80 Mayan cities around the region. Chichen Itzu just happens to be one of the more famous archeological sites.

After we finished there we went to a famous swimming hole where I jumped off of some high ledges into the water.

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On the overnight bus to Belize, I encounter a rather unfriendly immigration guard. At about 5:30am I found myself at the immigration booth of a female immigration officer in training. Her boss stood over her. He watched as she and another officer questioned people as they attempted to enter Belize.

Guard: Where are you going?
Me: Caye Caulker.
Guard: What is the address of your destination?
Me: I don't know. It's a hostel. I'll just find it when I get there.
Guard: You are entering a country and you don't know your destination?
Me: I apologize for my care free life style.
Guard: Do you know the name of the hostel?
Me: I think it's called Dirty Nasty.
Guard: There is no place here with that name.

She folds up my passport and pushes it across the counter back at me. She wants me to go back and find the address. I push my passport across the counter back at her.

Me: It's 5:30am. I don't have internet access here. I won't be able to get any address even if you make me get back in line. It's a hostel of some sorts called Dirty Nasty. That's all I know.
Guard: It's called Dirty McNasty.
Me: You are right then. Dirty McNasty.

I guess the only lesson I can walk away from this is that some women from Belize know what the Dirty McNasty is, but they will not admit they do.

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After a long and exhausting overnight bus ride. I finally arrived at a small island beach town called Caye Caulker. Everyone speaks English here, but the Caribbean people are not quite a consistent look. Instead the Caribbean look is more like a random mix. Everybody is different shades of white and black. Eye colors vary and accents vary even more. As soon as I get used to one look and sound, there is another person with a totally different look and sound.

Life is pretty relaxed here though I must say. While paddling out on the boat, I spot two boys stand up paddle boarding around the island. One boy even had a puppy on his board.

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At the bar the night before I meet Maurice. Everyone knows him, he is also known as "one of the top ten things to do at Caye Caulker." I bought him a beer he offered me all sorts of drugs. I scored some weed and told him I needed something else that's very hard to find: access. What I needed was a fixer: a person from the area who knows everyone that would introduce me to the locals so I can take their photos. Maurice, dying to please, appreciative of the beer, and looking to make more money agreed to be my fixer.

So today Maurice and I met up in the afternoon and he takes me all around town. He introduces me to his cousins, friends, and acquaintances. I got to meander the streets outside of the tourist areas. I would never have found this on my own. At one point he said, "Ok, man now I take you to the ghetto, the place where real people are." He takes me to a very poor part of town. We walk down a neighborhood where kids are loitering and looking at me; the only tourist on this part of town. We head into a run down set of houses. We continue through the back and through a yard full of debris. We wind around large pieces junk and hop on some boards over puddles to finally reach a back room.

At this point the hairs on the back of my neck were standing. I was in danger with no clear escape route. Given this was the middle of the day. But I was lost with a drug dealer deep in the ghetto. My danger senses were up and I was extremely nervous.

I thought to myself, "I did it again; in my search for adventure, I have put myself in harm's way." But I had one thing going for me, the joint I bought for Maurice earlier in the day. He stood at the door of this rundown apartment and negotiated with the people inside. After five minutes we were allowed in. It turned out to be just his friends who live in a small one room house. They were happy to have a free joint to smoke so they allowed me in to sit, talk, and smoke. It was the room of a Maurice's friend and his sister. Their bedroom/house was no bigger than my SF living room. There was just enough room for a bed, a super small table and that was it. They hung all their belongings in bags on the wall. They had very little. They were as close to the "dollar a day" people I would meet up close on this trip. The room was too dark and portraits didn't come out well. But the image of the brother and sister in this small house behind the junkyard lives vividly in my mind.

Star 4

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Today I went on a snorkeling trip at one of the most beautiful barrier reefs I have ever seen in my entire life. No exaggeration, I have never seen a reef with so much wildlife and beautiful vegetation. We saw two tortoise, three sting rays, and eagle ray, and an eel to boot. Not to mention the vast array of colorful fishes that inhabited the marine park. And the boat tour group itself was not half bad to look at. I was also the only male tourist along with 8 other female tourists from all over the world. It couldn't have been a better day.

Star 1

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I begin an intense five day 6 hour per day Spanish crash course with a focus on conversation and travel vocabulary. Malvino and Teresa were my tutors.

My assigned Homestay family is the Mëndez family. Luis and his wife Leti were the hosts. There children Ines, Tuly, and Luis Jr. also lived with us. The main house had a smaller adjoining house where their grandmother lived.

I stayed on the third floor where I had a private bedroom and bathroom. It was super comfortable and after many days on the road in the dormitories, I was very happy to have a little space of my own. I also meet my floor mate, a Danish woman my age, named Anne Maria. I couldn't help but share stories about Denmark and my Danish brother in law. We became friends instantly.

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The Mendez family provided three traditional meals per day. Most of the meals were humble and always came with a plate of hot tortillas. Most of the time I ate with Anne Marie and Luis during breakfast. During lunch and dinners, Leti and Luis would sit with us and practice speaking with us. Anne Marie was better at Spanish than me, so she could have more in depth conversations with Luis and Leti. I played with Luis quite a bit and bonded with him first. It was easy, he liked to wrestle and play simple games.

Star 2

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One of the biggest days of the year had arrived: the day of Maria Guadalupe. The apparition of Maria Guadalupe legitimized Christianity in Mexico and Central America. The celebration of this matriarch was a big.

The night before Leti and a large group of women from the church prepared an epic meal for the parishioners. It included the killing of about 100 chickens. When Leti told us the story, she gestured with her hands how they had to snap the neck of the chickens one by one. She and her female companions stayed up the entire night to prepare the meal.

After class I came back home where Tuly took me to the church. She was going to drive me on the motorbike, but I told her full grown man can't sit on the back of a motorbike with a teen girl driving. So she gave me the keys and I drove while she pointed. It felt nice to be back on a motorbike again. She took me to the lunch spot where all the parishioners gathered. It was a make shift community area between two houses. It was only accessible through a side alley. I had a simple meal of chicken soup and tortillas. I went to the back kitchen area to sneak a shot of the women who worked through the night to prepare our meal.

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In the evening Anne Marie and I walk around town as the festivities ensued in the town. Fireworks shocked our ears. The markets stayed open late. People were walking all about the church area. Young couples could be seen sitting along the roads. The church and it's surrounding areas had neon lights strewn. Fireworks from local houses rocketed up and lit the sky at random intervals. Across the street from the church a small dance area had formed. Strangely enough they were blasting loud modern trap music. At first the crowd surrounded the dance floor without a single soul in the middle. It was surreal to be listening to loud clubbing music in front of the church. But as the night progressed, more and more people came and soon the dance floor and the street as a whole was filled with people dancing.

Star 2

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At the biggest indigenous market in Guatemala, a group of tourists and I plowed through the sea of human bodies in search of some good bargains. The market had very small lanes and was crammed with bodies. The children of the stall owners even hid below the tables. I myself was overwhelmed and claustrophobic after two hours. It was just too much. After about an hour I was happy to step aside for some lunch and let the massive parade traffic drift on by.

Strangely enough, after midday the traffic had reduced by 50% and we were left to shop in peace in the last hours there.

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Anne Marie and I were hanging out on the third floor when I heard around the corner the music of the procession. When I saw this crowd of about 40 people parade down the street, I grabbed my camera and raced down to the street.

Today the city was celebrating their patron Saint Peter. The parade was lead by small band, followed by a group of women in traditional dress, men carrying an small statue of Saint Peter, and a general crowd of locals.

I had my eye on the town beauty. I didn't know her name, but I saw her at the wine shop the other day. Slender, beautiful skin, and magnetic eyes, she carried the attention of all the men as she walked amongst the girls.

Star 1

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After my afternoon class I rush across town to catch Tuly's confirmation. When I entered the church I sat in the back scanning the congregation. Spotting Anne Marie's blonde hair I moved my way to the front to sit with the Mendez family. I love the kindness of this family. On these important occasions they involved us in the ceremony and allowed us to join. This integration into the milestones of a life of a family are the warm moments that I will carry with me.

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When I first saw their modest home, I noticed the Mendez family did not have any portraits on their wall. This was my chance to give them a great gift; a family portrait.

When I stayed with Cau Phouc's family in Stockholm, I gave them a family portrait when I left. Till this day it hangs in their family room as a reminder of the importance of family. The Mendez family is also just as united that I was very proud to make this gift for them.

I had the family for about 45 minutes. They participated and worked with me as we did a proper photo session with position changes and people adjustments. I'm glad to have so much experience doing that I was even able to conduct it in another language.

Side note. At this point my Spanish was getting better and better that I was able to joke, prod, and give direction during the shoot with ease.

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A 5 day Spanish refresher course with emphasis on conversation and travel topics come to an end. Malvino and Teresa have been such good sports to help me with my cram session. Even though I am not a fluent speaker, I now have enough confidence to speak with people on the streets.

My classes with Teresa was the most fun because we progressed from educational lessons to more adult conversations. There wasn't a class where we didn't laugh out loud. She was such a good sport and even a better teacher. I miss her the most.

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Just as I was coming home from dinner, a large gathering of adults and kids gathered in front of the hostel. It was the Christmas parade of the Mayatan Bilingual school. As an avid parade photographer I couldn't help myself. The kids were in costume. It was cuteness overload for me.

I went straight into photographer mode. There were some challenges to the shoot. The parade occurred during sunset. So I had to change the camera settings as I went. I lost a bunch of photos since sometimes I had to adapt as the sun light disappeared. The kids were in constant motion. They needed to be called in order to get their attention. By the time I was done, it was night time and my settings had changed entirely. It was such a good learning experience.

Even though I am in a foreign country, seeing the children, their teachers, and parents at this parade reminds me who we are all the same after all. The innocent look on the kids and the pride on the faces of the parents transcends cultural differences. They were such a beautiful sight.

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I take a tour of one of the most artistic cities from the ancient Maya world. They have so much art preserved. While other Mayan cities are structural in there appearance, Copán was both structural and rich with art. So much of their sculptures, reliefs, and statues were preserved here. I got a much better visual understanding of their kings, myths, and values. There is a wealth of cultural history here. For me, seeing Copán completes all the major Mayan cities I wanted to see. While I am still missing Palenque and Mirador, Copán itself is the richest in terms of history, art, and visual artifact of the Mayan civilization. The beauty of the art is breath taking.

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With my meager Spanish, I thwarted this street kid from selling me shit. But when she turned to walk away I asked if she was hungry. She responded yes. I immediately asked her to join me for lunch. I bought her a meal. Her name was Cecilia, she is 9 years old. Her 4 year old sister came out to share in the meal also. I bought them another to go meal for dinner and gave them my water.

The whole incident made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because I was able to give them a nice meal. Sad because I could only change their day.

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I am feeling weary from the travel road so today I switched from the stuffy Air BnB to this great hotel called Mopelia, owned by a French guy named Gil. This is the first time on the trip that I am treating myself to a single bedroom cottage. For this Christmas week I only want to surf and live in luxury. Also there is a breakfast spot down the road that is 4 dollars for a big meal. That's pretty luxurious to me.

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It's been hard work. But I can learn to surf.

The lessons have been a bit meager. He just tells me stuff and takes me out for some straight pro action. I wasn't ready as my popup is no where near perfected. So today I practiced just paddling and body boarding. Apparently simple mobility takes lots of strength and practice.

I gave the GoPro camera to my instructor Juan Carlo and he definitely took better photos. While I was going in and out of the waves, I cut the bottom of my foot on the rocks. It's a 1.5 inch gash. That's my red badge of courage.

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After taking only shuttles from hostel to hostel, today I venture out on the chicken bus for the first time on this trip. It was a test of my Spanish and street smarts.

The mission was to take public transport aka the chicken bus to Juaya, a town about 3 hours out. I would need to take a bus to San Salvador, then transfer to a bus to Sonsonate, then take a final bus to Juaya.

On the first leg to San Salvador, the driver dropped me off 4 blocks from the bus terminal. Without actual directions I ask everyone on the road where to go. I was slowly picking up the Spanish words as people spoke. It felt good to be trapped without any English speakers. My brain was getting a good linguistic exercise.

On the second leg I learn about the true nature of the chicken bus. When I got on the bus to Sonsonate, I made the mistake of sitting in the aisle seat instead of the window seat. Everything was ok at first, but as the bus ride continued on, more and more people started to pack on the bus. About half way into the ride the bus was packed full, with people crammed in the aisle. One big woman was stuck next to me. While I sat, she stood next to me. Her belly was right on the side of my head. For the next hour I had to endure the jelly of her belly bouncing on my head every time the bus hit a bump. And there were many bumps.

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I take a 12 hour ride from 1pm to 1am. The journey starts in San Salvador, pass through Honduras, and ends in Managua, Nicaragua.

At the Honduras border, Eric and I enjoyed the story/logic of this ad. It's an ad for condoms, but it takes a long time to understand the story. The message is: "Someone is always waiting for you. Always use condom." The picture is of a bus driver. What that implies is that the bus driver who goes from country to country will shag questionable women. So when he returns he will have to shag his homegirl who was waiting for him. In order to prevent the spread of diseases, namely from the questionable woman to his homegirl, the bus driver should use a condom. Phew! Great condom ad or greatest condom ad ever?

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I take a tour around town with a random bearded Swede named Eric. Our guide Peltier was a smooth cat who took us to the hill top statue of Sandino, Huembes Market, a chocolateria, and finally a walk through the port. He also got helped me put together a historical picture of the country.

My personal favorite was the chocolateria Momotombo. It was the first time in my life eating freshly made chocolate. I came in as an immune tourist, I left with bags of chocolate and a new found taste for natural chocolate. Yummy.

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I'm having trouble finding a place to stay for New Years. It looks like I might have to stay here then head in on the day of Dec 31st. I'm getting a little nervous. I don't feel the hype of a major holiday. But I do want to party and hook up with another traveler. Or even better, a local.

UPDATE
After many attempts to find one hostel. The only way to make it find lodging was to get three different hostels. So once I landed for the next three days, I had to switch hostels every morning. Good way to see what the landscape of choices looked like.

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While having a late dinner at the main strip La Calzada, I was accosted by two street kids trying to sell origami reeds. With my basic Spanish, I was able to deflect their dead eyed sales pitch. But I convinced them to sit and eat with me. I got them sodas and fries.

Two hookers came by and started talking with me. I told them I don't want anything but I would buy them a drink. Upon ordering beers for the ladies I was told by the waiter that the manager did not want to serve the hookers. After some failed negotiations, I had to disperse my table of kindness.

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I can see the large stream of tourists pouring in. It's going to be filled with foreigners from all over the world. The buses and shuttles are all pouring into downtown. The intersections are filled with people, cars, bikes, donkeys, buses, you name it. For new years in Nicaragua, the two most visited towns are San Juan Del Sur and Granada. No wonder it was so hard to find lodging here in Granada.

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In the late morning I rented a bicycle. I wanted to bike across town to buy El Toro; a box of fireworks in the shape of a bull. During New Years festivities these Toro's were the crowd movers of the party. How El Toror works: hold the box over your head, lite it up, then run like hell.

When I arrived at the market behind the stadium at 11am, it was nothing more than a field with about 15-20 stalls. They all sold only one thing: fire works. With my new found Spanish skills I walked through all the stalls and none of them had El Toro. Fuck that! What?!

One of the merchant women told me I was too late. Just 20 minutes ago a gringo came to the market. He bought all the El Toro's in Granada. I was out of luck. There was to be no El Toro to have. The only way to get El Toro is to find that man or the party where all the Toros would be at.

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I began the night alone, no plans, no place to go for New Years Eve. The night was mine to be made. I walked out of the hostel to La Calzada, the main strip of downtown Granada.

Upon my arrival I run into Toine and Reinier two Dutch guys I met the night before. They invited me to come along for dinner. We met another two Dutch girls, Sarah and Lieke who brought along three more travelers, Ralph, Jocelyn, and Paige. We all sat down for dinner at the outdoors tables.

The street kids from the other night all stopped by to say hello to me. Poy dancers, fire performers, put on a show right in front where we ate. After dinner we cracked into the bag of fireworks I bought earlier that day. I even gave fireworks out strangers and kids for some fun. It was nice to see their faces light up with joy.

Just as the party was getting started, a marching band lead a parade of people through the strip. The parade was filled with dancers and people in costume. Without hesitation our small group jumped into the parade. We followed them as they went from block to block. We marched across town till we finally landed at a small block party put on by locals and foreigners. The street had people strewn on both sides. There was a DJ blasting music. The parade ended here but the games were about to begin.

The first event was a potato sack race. I lost horribly. The second race was balancing a lemon on a spoon using only your mouth. The girls put up a great race. After that we were treated to woman poy dancer. Once her performance was done they raised a piñata and kids got the center stage. While the boys tried their best, the piñata was finally broken by a chubby little girl. The piñata bursted open the kids swarmed to pick up the candy. Reinier refashions the piñata into be filled with beer cans. I was given the stick and busted that piñata open in a few fell swings.

In between the games someone would light up a toro and run like a madman up and down the street. Normally there is only one toro, but tonight this party had all the toros in town. They light up 6 to 10 toro's that night. I had found the party of the man who bought all the toro's in Granada.

The party goers had other various types of fireworks. From small sparklers to full rocket into the sky fireworks, everything was being lit up that night. At one point the fire department came to watch over the burning of an effigy of a man. The effigy was a life sized human being which when set on fire burned up in a blaze of glory. We finished the night by dancing till our heart's content.

In all my years of partying and going to big New Years parties, this unexpected little party was the best party in my memory. I was amazed and astounded at every turn of events. The music, fun, and magic of the night put together makes this the most memorable New Years party in my entire life.

Star 1

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Meryl and I start the day slowly. Without a proper map and specific destination we decided to just go "up that hill over there." We hike the area for the entire afternoon weaving up and down hills in and out of private homes. We got lost a few times and had to turn around. Eventually we reached a light house and enjoyed some great vistas of San Juan Del Sur.

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On the downtown strip of La Fortuna all the travel shops were selling the same packages. One of the most popular excursions was the waterfall repelling. The package included: the descent down three water falls by repelling and zipline.

I was very impressed how well the tour was organized. The guides were a group of young men who were very excited and fun. I suspect without the tour, they would still be a ball of laughs.

The lush jungle was an amazing backdrop to our adventure. The trees and vegetation put me in awe.

We were shuttled deep into the jungle where we started at the top of the first waterfall. The first waterfall was also the highest. When I stepped over the edge and looked down I immediately got scared. I was scaling down the side of a cliff right next to a pouring waterfall. It was beautiful and frightening at the same time. Agatha, the tourist before me in line, caught up to me and passed me. I guess I kind of froze out of fear and awe.

On the second descent we begin on top of another waterfall. Upon dropping down I was looking at a waterfall through a hole. It was so beautiful. I have never been up close to such a wonderous sight. Unfortunately for me, my camera was pointed at my face. At the bottom of the waterfall the guide swings me over into the waterfall for a nice dip.

Crossing the second water fall we use a zip line to cross the canyon. Once I reach the middle of the canyon, I got dropped straight down to the base of the waterfall. It was so scary/thrilling I had to fight the urge to close my eyes. When I looked back on the video I saw that my face did not express delight, but shear utter fear.

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What a monster hike. Most of the people rated this hike's difficulty as a 4 out of 5.

We start the day at the base of a muddy jungle area of the Cerro Chato volcano. Once we got to the top of Cerro Chato, we descended into it's lake. That was the most difficult part of the hike. The terrain was steep and the hike became more of a climb. Short of yelling like Tarzan, I was swinging on a rope in the jungle. The descent required hands and feet in the mud. I felt really bad for fellow tourists who were not in good health.

At the lake I took a nice cold swim in the lagoon on top of a dormant volcano. We then came back down and hiked towards the base of the dormant Arenal Volcano. We descended pass a waterfall.

The trip ended at the public hot springs. As we sat in the warm turbulent river as the guides served us cocktails. I chatted up some lovely ladies from Berkeley and Germany. I'm hoping to meet them back in town again.

UPDATE
No luck with the ladies.

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Matt and I find the entire town dead and empty on a Friday night. By luck we run into Rick, the guy from the tourism office and he tells us about Establo's bar. It was a place for locals. And true it was, mainly Tikas inhabited that place.

Matt and I work the scene trying to talk to women. We even did some public karaoke. When I finished my song I got an applause from the staff. What an odd and fun moment.

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The longest leg of this monster transit.

Crossing into Panama, it's required to have an airplane exit ticket. Following the advice of Benisha the hostel hostess, I bought a ticket on Spirit Airlines, got the confirmation, then cancelled it. At the border I showed it to the ticket agent and it was all good.

I made it to the city of David by 6pm. Now I am on the last 8hr leg to Panama City. Even though this is long, I am still excited about the San Blas Islands.

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Today I went to Albrook to buy a Tica bus ticket and had lunch at the mall On the way back home I decided to take a cab to the national park. The cabbie quoted me 5 dollars. That was already too much but I took it. Half way through he decides to up the price to 7 dollars. With my ok Spanish I refused the new price. For the rest of the ride, we proceed to argue/haggle of the price. At one point he even fakes stopping the car to drop me off only half way. But I remained calm and adamant I wouldn't pay. Finally he dropped me off at the destination. It was very uncomfortable to be stuck in a car and having to argue with a person. On the return trip an honest cabbie took me back for three bucks.

I walk back along Balboa waterway. It was great for people watching. Later that night I went to Trump Tower and casino. At the view from the bar on the 66 floor was spectacular.

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After a 5:30 am pickup and arduous ride through a jungle, we finally arrive at a port where we were taken to the San Blas archipelago. All the islands were owned and run by the indigenous people. We were instructed to pack light as there was no phone signal and very little electricity.

When we arrived at the island we were given our huts and immediately taken on a tour of the surrounding islands. The ride there was beautiful. The island were very small. Some only big enough for just one house. Our first destination was dog island. Sadly it was a small island over run with tourists. The only exciting thing was snorkeling around the sunken boat. The second place was the natural pool. That was a mass of land where you can stand on in the middle of the ocean. We went to lunch on an island with a single restaurant on it. We finished off at another small island where we could swim around.

The tour was made enjoyable by our two young guides were two young German girls who were traveling the region. Tika and Kira. They were a ball of fun and were so happy to make the tour enjoyable.

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The tour during the day help all the tourist get to know each other. During the night we participated in heavy drinking smoking and overall wild partying. Afterall we had no internet connection and barely an electricity. There was barely an land anyways because the island was super small. So we drank like fishes that night. I drank with Forest from Texas, Elizabeth from Munich, David a french guy from New York, and Mario a Swiss guy.

Forest was a guy who owned a business where he had to talk with many Spanish people. As a result he has a lot of street Spanish. I showed him the translation of his name, "El bosque". He loved it. I had a sound. It had a ring. So from there on we only referred to him as El Bosque.

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I woke up this morning to a bitter experience: the feeling of being left behind.

The tour came. The man took the other tourists, but he said I was not on a tour. "Your boat will come later." I waited and watched as two more boats came and I was told none of them were my boats. But the late afternoon, after waiting all day, I came to the conclusion that there was no boat tour for me. Today was spent hanging out on the island with Elizabeth, my exile companion. We waiting on the island for the others to return from their tour. I swam around the island and made use of my time. I just didn't like being told to wait for a boat and none came for me. It was an unpleasant feeling.

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One thing about the San Blas Islands I can't complain about is the beautiful clear starry nights. With barely any light contamination, the stars and milky way were visible. I waited till it was bed time and lights out on the island. I then ventured the beaches in search of the perfect angle to get some great astrophotography. I could see the stars and the Milk Way galaxy. That's always exciting for me.

David tagged along for some fun. While we were walking along the beach in the middle of the night, something washed on shore. It looked like a feint blinking light of a cell phone or something. When we went to scoop it out of the sand, it was just a feint grain of sand. We were perplexed and went to search for more. When we waded into the water knee deep we could barely see glimmers of light. When we started to stir our hands around in the water, magic happened. Our hands stirred up light particles. It was like stirring around fireflies that were underwater. It was the first time in our lives we saw bio luminescence. David and I were in utter awe. It was not bright enough for a cell phone to see, it was only visible to the naked eye. In our delighted and amazed state, we continued to stir the water and watch the magic happen. It looked like we were waving around a wizard's wand leaving behind a trail of light particles.

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On the night of second day I grilled the main guy of the island about why everyone else had a tour and I didn't. He said today I would be able to get on a tour. I used my best Spanish to expound on about how his promise had to be reliable. His word was true and that it was a solid promise. He kept saying "yes, yes, yes, I am speaking the truth."

This morning we woke up and waited for the boats to come. When it came, they took the usual suspects. The tour guide told me and Elizabeth were not allowed to go with him. Again. But since I had held the main man to his word, I was allowed to join the tour. Elizabeth was left behind again.

And yet strangely, after all the haggling the tour on the third day went to the similar destinations as the first day. We even went to the natural pool again. It was rather disappointing. When we returned home, I was glad to leave this tourist trap.

The whole thing about this being an experience where you will be living with the indigenous people on Caribbean island was just the brochure info. I should have known that if it was written about on travel websites that it was not going to be untouched or authentic as I had hoped. But as with many experiences that I had, sometimes it was not the place that made the story, but it was the people. And in all honesty I was happy to meet the people who shared this common experience.

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I traverse the entire city looking to get a sense of the life. I take a cab to Harbor view for a nice vista and lunch. After being burned by previous cabbies, when I would negotiate the price of the ride first. When I entered, and before they could begin haggle me for more money, I start recounting the details of how the previous cabbies have been trying to rip me off. I keep mentioning about how hard it is to meet an honest cabbie in this town. With my broken Spanish I babbled on about honesty and how I needed someone to give me hope that society here was good. It was a shield that I was using to prevent further scamming. It worked well as the cabbies would then to sympathize with me instead of attempting to gouache me for more.

At the end of the day I decided to escape downtown all together. I ventured to San Miguelito to see what some of the shops and neighborhoods looked like. Going off deep into these areas where kind of exciting to me, it's nice to escape the tourist areas and see where the locals lived.

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I went out to explore the night life. I ran into Annie and Rebecca, who were also traveling from through Central America, at a local diner. Annie joined me while Rebecca retired for the night. We picked up two more travelers, Doris and Shawn, on the way and ended up at the Iguana Surf Bar to get our groove on. At the bar a local Panamanian engaged us. She was a petite older woman who looked like she was having a good time. She danced with me at first quite a bit. Since we were all kind of strangers we danced as a group but on our own. Just having a good time. But the Panamanian woman kept getting very close to me. Her dance style was more like Caribbean dance hall style; she grinded her ass against my pelvis. She kept 'backing that ass up" into me. I accepted this as just her way of dancing until she got touchy feely. As she was rubbing up against me, she reached around and grabbed my dick. Not my style, so I back away.

She got the hint and started dancing with Annie and the other guy from our group. After some more drinking and dancing ensued, she finally rotated back to me. She backed up into as usual. But then she mixed it up this time. She grabbed both of my hands and pulled them forward and slide them down the side of her pelvis. Just when I beginning to feel uncomfortable she went for gold. She quickly pulled my hands up and put them right on her breasts. I closed my eyes out of disgust and yanked my arms away. When I opened my eyes, I say a guy across the bar hold up his drink and say, "yeah!" as if to toast me. I moved away from her asap.

Afterwards when we left as a group, I was recounting the tale to my friends. Annie and Shawn both said she felt them up also. I guess I wasn't the only one that was violated by Ms. Touchy Feely. That was the only comforting aspect of that night.

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I signed up for some surfing, the only difference is this time it was a beautiful reef break. I really didn't know what this meant until it was too late.

A water taxi took me out to Paunch beach across from Wizard beach. When I got to the destination, it wasn't a beach, it was the open waters of a canal. When I asked where and when they were going to pick me up, they said in two hours, right here. I look around and I was confused. Here? I argued for a beach pickup, but the surf would prove to be too strong.

The reef break was a spot in the Bocas Del Toro channel where the incoming tide is split by a strong barrier reef forming to surfing breaks. There were mainly advanced surfers there. I rode one of the waves inland towards the beach. I never reached land. The beach was so rocky that I had paddle back out to the reef break and take on the big waves along with the pros. The constant beating from the waves and the extra effort to not be bashed into the rocks put the fear of god in me. "Quoc," I thought to myself, "In your search for adventure you have put yourself into danger again." Despite the overwhelming waves, I hung in there until the water taxi came and rescued me. I was never happier to be back on dry land as that day.

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During dinner I went to Captain Caribe for the best burger in town. It was quite delicious and I also met a cool group of Irish travelers, two girls and one guy. One girl Growanya was a super tall blonde girl. I mean she could barely fit into places cause she was so tall.

Later that night we all went on a pub crawl together. They were actually super nice people and serious drinkers. The Irish would be proud. While we sat around a couch area, we were improperly seated. Growanya got up and walk right over and sat down next to me to talk. Quite friendly and confident girl. As medium height guy, I love taking on tall awkward girls. I somehow look at them and have a burst of confidence. And the more I drank the more confident I got. Unfortunately she revealed she had a boyfriend. By the time we got to the third bar I didn't give a shit. While we both stood at the pier in the back of the bar, I put my had around the small of her back. I pulled her towards me, and leaned upward to kiss this super tall girl. I stood on my tippy toes, stretched my neck up and was only able to get half way. I heard her say, "Haha, you can't reach me." Her height was also a convenient defense. We joined back with the group and danced the night away.

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While I was biking out to Cocle beach I came across one of those tourist four person bikes. Except this one was being riden by 8 little surf town kids. They were quite a site to behold. They were a mix of boys and girls, mixed kids, local kids, and foreigners. The four wheeled vehicle was being operated by kids of all sorts of different hair colors and ethnicities. They were so lovely. I biked up to their side and then egged them to race. Without a single word they understood my invitation. The girls started yelling as the boys kicked it into second gear. I wasn't on any speed machine by any means, but I had to fight a little bit to not be shown up by the kids. As I overtook them and moved ahead I heard the boys and girls screaming in fun and delight. What a super cute moment.

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Arriving in the mid afternoon I had one chance for a last surf run. I rented a bike and made my way down to Cocle beach. From there I had a quick lunch and launched into the water.

It was a crowded beach with surfers practicing the break. I moved out of the way and tried to ride the baby waves. The beach break was just a bit weird. Battling the constant onslaught of waves, the board kept flying out beneath me. I was barely able to stick to it. The times I did manage to ride a wave I was not able to pop up due to a lack of balance.

All in all it was a wash out. My last surf attempt was more of a physical beating than a skill development. I feel strongly resolved to find another surf spot somewhere and perfect my pop up. I want one sweet controlled ride.

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TRIP STATISTICS

58 days traveled
18 cities and 8 countries seen
2 languages spoken
1 new scar

2,123 miles traveled
10 miles by boat
443 miles by shuttle
1,623 miles by bus

Countless fried chicken plates

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF
Language Abilities
- I can speak just enough Spanish
- On the streets I was able to ask for directions and understand what was told to me
- When haggling at the markets or dealing with taxi drivers I can put up a reasonable defense. I actually don't like the activity since it can be stressful at times.
- One on one extended conversations gets really tough for me.

Social situations
- I want more experiences that allow me to be a part of the culture. At times I prefer to hang out more locals over other travelers.
- I'm a social person, but I in some social situations I can really feel lonely in a crowded room

A Renewed Perspective
- Meeting locals, living with families, being a part of the Central American culture has given me a view of what life is like there
- I feel connected more to a universal human experience
- Americans barely travel, so when I meet a European I connect with them much faster. In many ways I feel more like a global citizen.

I don't know when I will be able to travel such an extensive time like this again. I cherish these travel adventures that open my eyes to world around me. It enriches my own life.

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