Due to our ever-changing plans and an unexpected job-offer back home in Oregon, we found ourselves making a lightning run (for us anyway) through the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Since we spent so little time in each of these countries, we decided to do a "10 favorite things" post that combines all four of them.
Central America Stats-
Days to get from Guatemala to the airport in Costa Rica: 18
Miles Driven: 872
International Borders Crossed: 4
Active Volcanoes Climbed: 1
Cost of two cups of black coffee at a Costa Rican Denny's: $6+
Flash Floods Camped in: 1
1. Favorite town: San Salvador El Salvador. The craft beer was cheap, the road signs made sense, and nobody even tried to murder us.
2. Favorite meal: Our very first night in El Salvador we wandered into the border town where we were camped and bought dinner from a very sweet older couple who were making tiny papusas in their yard. Cost for both of us? $1
3. Most unexpected thing: How expensive Costa Rica was. Everyone warned us, but we were still surprised. It was actually a good experience for us. After spending a week there, the prices back in Oregon don’t seem too bad.
4. Favorite encounter: On our last night in Nicaragua we setup on the shores of Lago Colcibolca across from the volcanic island of Ometepe. We pulled in and setup in the rain among an audience of pigs, cows, chickens, and horses. Shortly after setting up the farmer ambled over and we talked together about our short time in Nicaragua and a bit about his life on the lake. I try to always keep a couple cold beers in the fridge for just this sort of occasion. It’s really cheap rent.
5. Most useful local word/phrase: “No necesitamos tu ayuda”. We crossed over four international borders on our jaunt from Guatemala to Costa Rica. At each one there is a small horde of “helpers” just waiting to guide you through the process for a small tip. As we’ve crossed more borders, we’ve become much more comfortable with the process. It’s always a little stressful, but the one time we hired a helper, who admittedly did a good job, it was even more stressful because we felt like we’d lost a lot of control over the process. “No necesitamos tu ayuda” translates to “We don’t need your help”. The border helpers can be pretty pushy, but if you repeat this phrase politely but firmly, they’ll eventually find someone else to harass.
6. Favorite drive: Our hour long back-road drive up the flanks of Volcan Telica in Nicaragua. It was the first time I was able to use 4-lo in a while. Even though the road wasn’t all that challenging, it was just difficult enough to let us feel like we’d earned the excellent campsite that night. Also, there was a smoking volcano, so that was pretty cool.
7. Best free experience: I’m not sure if this counts or not- but my favorite “free” experience from out trip through the rest of Central America was meeting up with all of our overlander friends on the way down. Re-connecting with Supernova Bliss and The Vanabundos, and finally meeting the Vagabroads and Here Until There were definitely highlights for me.
8. Most frustrating thing: Missing out on Honduras. I already wrote a bit about this, but we were truly bummed to have run so low on time that we were unable to explore all Honduras had to offer. It’s still one of our greatest regrets so far.
9. Favorite experience: Driving to, climbing, and camping under the Volcan Telica. We were missing mountains and a little bit of wilderness, so the night we spent below Telica, with its rumblings and sulfuric clouds really hit the spot. We’d have loved to spent more time in Nicaragua getting to know a few more of its many volcanos.
10. Best thing about the country: Now, of course we drove through four countries for this favorites list, but I’d have to say my favorite thing about our time in them was the sheer diversity we found: Modern, metropolitan cities, crumbling, colonial cities, beautiful beaches, 9000’ mountain camps, and plenty of beautiful welcoming people.
Favorite Photo: Come on, the truck's parked under a rainbow. It's awesome.
1. Favorite town: It's hard to say because we spent more time in specific "camps" than towns while we were rushing through Central America, but if I had to pick a town, it would probably be Leon, Nicaragua. It's a gritty, busy, working town with a lot of history and beautiful architecture, but it didn't feel like a tourist town. Finding a town that is welcoming to tourists, but not actually a tourist destination, is like hitting the travel jackpot! Our experience was also helped by our time hanging out with Vanabundos!
2. Favorite meal: I have two favorites- 1) The night we hung out in Leon with Gabby and Sandro, grazing on an embarrassing amount of street food and then went to see Baywatch at the movie theatre and ate two large bags of popcorn! That was a good night. 2) Other favorite was when we met Natasha and Pete in the mountains in Costa Rica and shared a pot of homemade chili in 50° weather with a bottle (or two) of wine!
3. Most unexpected thing: How no one in Honduras expected that we were there to see Honduras... Everyone we met in Honduras asked if we were going to Nicaragua. They have a reputation at this point of being a pit stop between El Salvador and Nicaragua. I wish we could have done more to change that, but alas, we were just one of the many who stayed for less than 24 hours.
4. Favorite encounter: When we got to Nicaragua we decided to spend our first night in an overnight parking lot for truck drivers. Sounds sketchy, but we've actually had great luck staying in places like this. The lady running the lot charged us 50 Córdobas (about $1.70) per night for camping, and even brought us breakfast of eggs, rice, beans, and fried plantains in the morning. She asked how long we had to spend in Nicaragua, and then gave us a route based on our time so that we could see everything her country had to offer! This was the kind of amazing hospitality you can count on in most of Central America. It's amazing to think that this is not the exception, but the rule here.
5. Most useful local word/phrase: What is so interesting to us, is the difference in greetings from country to country and city to city. Some places it's "Buenos dias", some it's just "Buenas", sometimes it's "Buendia" a kind of slang combination of the two words, but almost nowhere is it just "hola." And it is always polite to greet the locals when entering an establishment or passing by someone.
6. Favorite drive: The drive on the Ruta de Flores through El Salvador takes you into the mountains and surrounds you with about 20 different volcanoes winding through beautiful green hillsides, and coffee plantations. Plus, beautiful little mountain towns. It's only about an hour long drive, but if I had to choose a place to go back and explore more this would definitely be in my top 3.
7. Best free experience: We camped for 3 nights in the parking lot of this adorable boutique hotel where Vagabroads were staying. We offered to pay, but the very kind proprietor asked that we only buy a meal at the restaurant or shop in their on-site gift/snack shop. It was awesome!
8. Most frustrating thing: Borders, borders, and more borders. They're not the worst thing in the world... they're kind of like the DMV, if there was no air-conditioning, no one spoke English, and each teller was in a different building and processed only one kind of form but you don't know which one until you walk all the way to them and ask. Good times! Oh and there are a bunch of "helpers" who will yell at you in Spanish until you are charmed into listening to them and they will inevitably send you back to where you were, for the form you already had signed and then expect you to tip them for their helpful services...
9. Favorite experience: I loved the trucker parking lot in Nicaragua, I loved hanging out with our friends, new and old, and I loved watching the scenery change from El Salvador to Costa Rica, but I think my favorite thing was the day we were caught in the flash flood at the lake in Nicaragua. It was just so funny and unexpected, and the locals were so sweet, and the rainbow that came out after the rain was incredible! Also it was our first free camp in a while and it was nice to get out of the city for a night.
10. Best thing about the country:
El Salvador – The beer, thank you El Cadejo!!
Honduras – The lovely people who wished we'd stayed longer in their country
Nicaragua – The outdoors. I so wish we had had a whole month to explore all the national parks and mountains/volcanoes of Nicaragua!
Costa Rica – So far I haven’t decided, but luckily we'll be back there in October and I'll get to figure that out!
Some wine, my house, and a beautiful view... What more could a girl ask for?
Alternate favorite picture: Chickens in Nicaragua!