Our bus journeys in the world: from hell to heaven! 

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Funny enough it seems like yesterday when M and I embarked on an exciting adventure to explore 9 Latin American countries together. It is very hard for us to believe that we are now on a complete different chapter, exploring the magical African continent. After many laughs, doubts, tears and incredible encounters, we left Latin America. Fast forward 13 months and we were again on another bus journey… which was interesting! As I am a fanatic of listing things (#sorrynotsorry), we realized that M and I had discovered 30 countries together, which meant: many local buses, chicken buses, shuttle buses, long distance buses and the least we can say is that we had our fair share of emotions and stories to tell! Our experiences were at times close to a disaster but mostly quite entertaining. Those stories are what make us love riding with locals while backpacking. Here are our most memorable moments:

  • Uganda / Rwanda: Our driver furiously overtook hundreds of car and trucks in the middle of the night, excessively using his funky honk. For those who have read my blog or have been to Uganda, you know the road conditions: potholes after potholes. Driving dangerously over 100 km an hour, our bus shaking in every curve and any overtaking action, our very own “Fangio” flew us from Kampala to Kigali
  • Rwanda: certainly the most embarrassing! I had decided to have some Indian leftovers and as it appeared, the restaurant didn’t close the doggy bag properly… Stuck in the back of a crowded bus, smelling like Byriani, ruining clothes and seats, certainly a good way to make friends with locals… not! Well done muzungu!
  • Colombia: We got stuck for hours due to a trucker strike. We had already started making ourselves comfortable, thinking we stick for the night but the police arrived and let us drive through
  • Bolivia: The most romantic one: when we discovered the love we both had (have) for traveling / Bolivia
  • Colombia: We thought that we were going to die between Medellin and Neva – sitting in the front row was a mistake!
  • El Salvador: We were entertained by a clown and a preacher. Both were pretty creepy
  • Belize: We (read: I – my idea of heaven but hell for M) loved the sound proofers, screaming erm singing 80’s love songs on a very early Sunday morning
  • Honduras: We got to sit tight with locals where a 2-seater bench welcomed 4 people. Definitely a good way to get acquainted
  • El Salvador: We stood on overcrowded buses, getting pretty intimate with our immediate neighbors
  • Peru: We felt like we were on a plane, it was so comfortable and spacious. With a 25-hour journey ahead of us, we were definitely happy to travel in style
  • Indonesia: It smelled like onions and cigarettes. They apparently didn’t ban smoking in buses. At least we didn’t have to be embarrassed by being sweaty and smelly

Karma has been good to us and we are grateful that no French nor Swiss was hurt in the “bussing” process around the world. There is no adventure without adventure and for those funny, awkward or scary situations, we are thankful! To many more!

Next: our Rwandan exploration starts!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Z for zis is ze end… Adios Central America!

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Who would have thought that my French accent would one day be an asset and help me shamelessly cheat on my blog? This was it… With or without a French accent, this was the end. Our Central American adventure was done. Finished. Completed. You name it! After 92 days, exploring 7 countries, covering almost 8000 kilometers by chicken bus, collectivo, plane, train, boat, taxi, on foot or on the back of a pick up truck, we had to say goodbye to Central America. We were not ready as we couldn’t believe that time had flown by so quickly. It seemed like it was only yesterday that I flew into Cancun, met up with M and that we started our challenging, yet rewarding, adventure together. 

Every single country has touched us in its own way so it was hard to come up with a ranking. However after listening to our hearts, here is our attempt: 

7. Guatemala: it somehow failed to woo me completely. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time there but I wasn’t sad to leave… For me there were too many (disrespectful towards the locals) hippies and the country was not as cheap as it was advertised. I loved the hike to the Acatenango volcano as I was able to witness the El Fuego’s eruption! My very first eruption! We also very much enjoyed our time in Semuk Champey, Tikal and Flores. 

6. Belize: we liked it even though we didn’t spend much time there. In retrospective, we could have stayed a week more. The chicken bus rides, the friendly locals, Hopkins and the Xunantunich ruins (small but lovely with some cheeky howler monkeys) made our exploration fun! 

5. Panama: another country where we spent less time, nevertheless we were amazed by its landscapes. Our train ride from Panama City to Colon and sailing through the amazing San Blas islands made this part our journey unforgettable. Without the rain in Boquete, this country could have had a better ranking. Sorry Panama! 

4. Costa Rica: amazing wildlife, a fantastic (borderline scary!) road trip with our friend S and the wonderful Cahuita National Park where we encountered majestic eyelash vipers made us love this country. Why isn’t it in the top 3? Well Costa Rica’s unrealistic and unjustified high prices are backpacker unfriendly! But hey as my friend said, Costa Rica is known as the Switzerland of Central America so whatyougonnado?!

3. Nicaragua: this country knew how to woo us. With an almost tourist free Somoto Canyon, our paradise on earth aka Little Corn Island, the Apoyo lagoon and Granada made us fall in love with this country. Why isn’t it first or second then? Some unscrupulous locals tried to rip us off and it left a bad taste in our mouths. 

2. El Salvador – we loved loved loved the fact the country was completely tourist free, only travelers. Its friendly and very helpful people showed us a great time and we enjoyed hiking to the beautiful Santa Ana volcano lake. In this country, we also found our favorite hostel so far: Casa Verde in Santa Ana. We were warned by so many people (who by the way nerv went to El Salvador) not to go as this country was dangerous, we felt special to get there anyway. Moreover, El Salvador earned a  place in our heart for showing us its great sense of hospitality. 

1. Honduras – we had an amazing time in this supposedly dangorus country. Again warned not to go but going anyway made Honduras special to us. It was almost tourist free (this based on the fact that we didn’t go to the islands in the north where tourists are congregating), bliss!  The friendly locals that made our chicken bus rides were musically interesting and of course I couldn’t leave out its addictive baleadas

So you can see why we had a hard time, accepting that we had to leave Central America. That said, while this door closes, another one has to be opened and plenty more adventures are waiting for us! Next stop: Cartagena! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

X like Xploring

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Yes, I am aware that I’m shamelessly cheating but would you have read a post about xenon, xysts or xerus? That’s what I thought! Sooooooo… We were (sadly) accepting that our time in Central America was about to end. Can you believe three months have passed since our start in Cancun?! We certainly couldn’t… It was a tough realization (but to fair, our denial stage couldn’t last forever) as we had to make our way to the coast where our sailing boat to Colombia was waiting for us. We could no longer ignore the fact that we were about to board a boat that would take us away from this beautiful continent! Even though we were excited by the new chapter coming up, our hearts were heavy. 

To cheer us up, we decided to go on a train ride to reach Colon. Plus we had flown, walked, rode chicken buses and it felt right to add one more transportation mode to our adventure! M was pretty enthusiastic about it (what is it with boys and trains?!) but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean we rode several trains in different countries and our experiences were pretty epic (borderline ridiculously dangerous but fun) and I certainly didn’t expect what we experienced! This was probably the most luxurious train I have ever been on! We were offered free coffee, a complementary snack box, a newspaper and the pleasure to sit and relax for an hour. Our neighbors were two older Colombian men and they were very entertaining! We learnt a lot of interesting facts about Panama, its canal and Colombia while enjoying a very scenic ride and the hour went by too quickly. 

In Colon, taxi drivers tried to scare us (as you do) but failed to dissuade us to walk to the bus station. A kiwi traveler tagged along and the three of us survived the 300 meter walk through the dangerous area! It is so tiring to have such people giving bad reputations to areas for the sake of getting money out of tourists. Fortunately, M knew exactly where we were going and his confidence saved us a few dollars. The ride to Portobelo was lovely as we went through little villages and drove along the ocean. Our stopover in Portobelo was short; we enjoyed exploring this tiny fisher village, which was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America, and its forts. Our last chicken bus ride in Center America took us to Puerto Lindo where we met, what we had yet to discover, the best captain we could have wished for. 

From the moment we bumped into him by accident (we were two hours too early. What has traveling with a Swiss man done to me?!), we liked him. He was funny, interesting, could speak Spanish, Italian and English! His son, who would sail with us as well, as he would like to become a captain one day, was lovely. Upon meeting our tripmates, we worried a bit that we might feel left out as they were 5 Dutch buddies traveling together. But some of them reached out to us in English and we were hopeful that our little group would have a fantastic time… should we survive, of course. My fear was overwhelming when we stepped on the small taxi boat that was driving us to our ‘home’ for the next 5 days and nights: Koala 2. I squeezed M’s hand, slowly breathed in and out and closed my eyes. After all, there was, as I said earlier, no turning back. 

Next stop: San Blas Islands, our last Central American stop(s) before starting our South American exploration! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Are you a seasoned traveler?

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I. Made. It. I fukcing made it and I am very happy to wish myself a happy 3rd monthversary on the road! I survived those three months but sometimes I wonder how! M’s expertise and moral support helped for sure and this monthversary was definitely calling for an introspection… After my beloved running shoes went missing (read: stupidly forgotten on a bus. Yes, it can happen), I wondered what the fukc was wrong with me. As you do. I wondered if I was tailored to be on this journey. I had been thinking that I was a seasoned traveler! What if I was wrong? What if I wasn’t a seasoned traveler after all? What abut you? Do you think you are a seasoned traveler? You know you are a seasoned traveler when:

  1. You don’t cross a border without being sure that you have enough cash to survive in the country. What if your credit cards don’t work… 
  2. You don’t fall asleep on a bus. Never. Ever. No exception. I mean seriously who would anyway… 
  3. You know that you need to pack warm clothes not to freeze your butt when staying overnight on a freaking windy volcano where the temps drastically drop at night
  4. You can read any map and thanks to your sense of orientation you don’t have to rely on anybody else to find your way 
  5. You have researched all the countries you will come across during your travel and aren’t surprised while crossing the briefer that they speak English back to you and nose Spanish 
  6. You don’t leave your wallet unattended in a shop and you surely don’t walk away from it, forgetting about it until somebody is looking for the owner
  7. You can spell your name right while buying a plane ticket. It does help to find your e-ticket and be allowed to board the plane 
  8. You remember in which country you must throw your used toilet paper in the trash because you wouldn’t want to deal with a clogged toilet, would you? 
  9. You know that you should only have two things to carry, your backpack and your daypack. Any other item will be forgotten on a bus. Be ready for heartbroken farewells with any item that which is not packed or attached to your backpack. Bye bye hat, bye bye running shoes… *sob*
  10. You double check you sit on the right bus to avoid driving to the wrong city! 

If you’ve answered ‘oops’ to most of all the above (welcome to my life), I’m afraid that the ‘seasoned traveler’ club might not be for you. BUT this club is anyway overrated and cramped with travel experts (read: snobs who seriously need to take it easy on traveling websites giving arrogant advice). Congrats though! You have earned the right to call yourself a gooppy traveler. The one for goofy but happy travelers known as gooppy. You will end up finding yourself silly and you will laugh a lot in the process. Don’t worry, there surely is a ‘traveling for dummies’ book available, if you are afraid not to make it. But otherwise, remember: take it easy, ‘mistakes are proof that we are trying’.

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

V for very wet Sunday, very wet indeed!  

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“If you go to Boquete, you must hike Barú volcano” – they said. We haven’t planned much along the way but this was one of our plans. Go to Boquete, hike up Barú. Move on. But Petrus, cheeky bugger again, didn’t agree on this. It heavily rained from the moment we arrived to the moment we departed. There were some short (what’s the adjective for shorter than short?) sunny intervals but not long enough to motivate us to go on a 10-hour hike. We love hiking but the thought of being soaked after 5 minutes of hiking didn’t appeal to us. We met a few brave hikers and they didn’t look like happy chaps when they came back. I mean it is a long and demanding hike up to see… nothing… So thank you but no thank you! 

We used instead our Boquete time to have a most needed down time. Being unemployed (or retired as M likes to tell people we meet) has its perks: the right to be lazy without feeling hotly! Priceless! It was simply perfect: a rainy day, a lovely communal area with cabled TV and a great kitchen to bake a yummy pizza. We ‘chillaxed’ on the couch, watching some TV shows (oh how I have missed this) and cheering on our teams during the very entertaining Switzerland -France Euro game. The game might have ended with a draw (but hey there might have been a bloodshed in our couple otherwise) but the players gave us a great show, from ripping the high quality t-shirts of the Swiss team apart to turning into swingers (as the national Swiss sport of course). They kept us entertained and hopeful for 97 minutes. Good job, boys! 

While we couldn’t check the volcano Barú nor go on hikes through fincas, we walked to the free botanic garden that was located half an hour away from our hostel. Rain miraculously (almost) stopped and we had a beautiful time, strolling through the diverse flowers the garden was hosting. This could surely be an even more wonderful place when the sun would shine, as you could sit by the fountains, admiring the (carps) Koi and listening to the noise of the small waterfall. There was also a tiny chapel that offered a refuge to travelers in need of a peaceful place. It was a nice place and we definitely liked the fact that it was free. Great way to spend a few hours in Boquete! 

We were planning to stay two full days in Boquete but one day of laziness was enough for both of us. Even though we met great people at true hostel, we thought it was time for us to go on the long cross country bus ride and settle for a few days in the capital city. Next stop: Panama City. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

U for unreal: we are in Panama!

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Crossing into Panama belonged to the easiest border crossing we have had so far. Quick and efficient. Officers on both sides were very diligent. A bit too diligent in my case: our Panamanian officer noticed that my boat ticket out of Panama had been issued incorrectly. Great… Audrey had become Aufrey (mind you, I got worse misspellings in my life! Thanks Starbucks!) and my last name was cut short. I was suddenly Ms. Pad and he was not amused by this. He was pretty hesitant to let me in. He asked me a few more questions so I put on my angel face (who would have known I had this in stock?!) and answered his questions. Would he let Aufrey Pad enter the country?! I waited, he looked up at me, down to my passport and my boat ticket, and up again, sighing loudly. It was so hard to read him, he could have played a villain in a Tarantino movie: his face closed, giving me no clue of what his decision would be. I can’t even start to explain how relieved I was when he finally stamped my passport. I was in! 

While waiting for the bus, we treated ourselves to a breakfast and imagine our delight (borderline relief) when we realized that food was cheap in Panama and it didn’t have to be gaillo pinto! It had been way too long since we had eaten for less than $2! This put a smile on our faces and we were liking Panama more an more by the minute. After breakfast, we took a bus to Almirante where we jumped on a boat to Bocas Del Toro. We were not sure where we wanted to stay: Isla Colon was the arrival island but Bastimento was supposed to be beautiful. The question was quickly answered by the facts that 1) we found a cheap place to stay on Isla Colon that allowed us to book an activity 2) the boat shuttles to Batismento were unaffordable ($5 one way – are you seriously serious?!). 

Since we found a cheap place to stay, we were excited to actually book a tour. It was surreal to see the prices paid by the tourists and we almost gave up on the idea of joining a tour. Yes, we wanted to see dolphins, sea stars and walk on the most beautiful beach Bocas has supposedly to offer but wanting it didn’t mean that we had left our common sense in our dorm! We talked to a few hustlers and luckily, one of them, understanding where we were coming from, offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse. I guess once they stop seeing you as a rich foreigner, they can see that this is the same struggle no matter where you are from: we all work hard to pay for food, our rent, our insurance(s) and our taxes. We were grateful to this man and we couldn’t wait to go on that boat tour. We walked back to our hostel to chill and dream about Dolphins! 

In the morning we were happy to see a friend we met in El Salvador arrive at our hostel. We always feel grateful to be able to catch up with friends made on the road. Those people are special to us, some of our best friends we have were actually met during our trips in South America or south East Asia *sappy moment over*. Our boat took us first to an area where dolphins like to hangout. I was very pleased because there was no feeding involved and we stayed at a reasonable distance from those beautiful animals. Some of them jumped, some swam fast and followed us and some just ignored us. This was the perfect start of our exploration day. The starfish spotting was a bit disappointing. It barely lasted 3 minutes and we didn’t stay still long enough to admire them! It was definitely less impressive than with our friends the dolphins and our friend, who instead went to Estrella Beach on Isla Colon, saw much bigger and colorful ones. Good to know for another time! 

To go to the (supposedly) best beach in the area, Zapatilla, we had to drive in open water for a while and let’s say that our ride was… interesting. What a ride! For a start, our captain was driving way too fast. He seemed in a hurry to reach Zapatilla and instead of driving with the waves, he preferred to break them, resulting in some bumps that were rather painful. I squeezed M’s hand so hard after every wave ‘jump’, he probably worryied he would lose a finger or two in the process! We were all relieved to set a foot on the island… Pleasure that almost immediately faded away: the beach was so dirty, it was shocking! How could they advertise it as their best beach but not pay attention to the cleanliness?! This was a mystery to us. The island was quite tiny and too many tourists remained on the spot where they were dropped off so we decided to walk around and find our ‘deserted island feeling’ spot. 

We walked through the jungle and I somehow challenged M (one day we might need to stop this competitive non-sense but for now it is so much fun!) to prove we could survive on a deserted island. I knew I would be useless and I was doomed to die of starvation but M was quite confident we would feel right at home. 15 minutes later, after several failed attempts to climb a coconut tree, many tries to kick a coconut nut with a heavy branch, hoping it would fall, we had to accept that we would be screwed if we were stranded on an island. The best for us, to be honest, was to jump on our boat and head back to civilization where food was available on demand. We quickly reached the other side of the island, well once M stopped playing Robinson Crusoe and we found out that many giant turtles had laid eggs. We didn’t see any turtles *sigh* as they spend their days in the ocean but many ‘nests’ were nicely protected by tapes. If only the authorities were committed to clean their beach as much as they were to monitor the eggs locations, we would truly be in paradise. As a matter of fact, less than 10 minutes away from the crowd, we found a clean and peaceful spot. This island had potential so let’s hope Bocas’ authorities come to their senses soon and invest some money to keep Zapatilla clean. 

I was dreaded the ride back and it was worse than before. Wind had picked up and the waves got bigger and bigger by the minute. I couldn’t wait to reach our snorkeling spot even though I usually get panicked, just by hearing the word ‘snorkeling’. Yep, this is how bad the ride was! Funny enough, when we reached the spot, I didn’t feel worried; around us, the waters were calm and we were surrounded by islands so I felt like we were in a lake. How easy it was to trick my mind! I could swim in a lake so no problem I thought. I love being underwater, most probably because I can see any shark lurking (you are never too careful) and I feel less exposed. I took a mask and dove into the ‘lake’. I was however one of the first one to go back on the boat. I was ready to overcome my fear one step at a time and I was not ready to increase my chances of being left behind or attacked by a shark (I should probably stop watching catastrophe movies as well as the horror movies). 

After a light lunch, we were ready to go home. If I thought rides # 1 & 2 were bad, ride 3 was my worst nightmare! The captain surely was in a rush to get rid of us and there were a few times, the waves literally became a jumping ramp and I thought my spine would rupture. Luckily, my need to find solutions kicked in and I ended up using my life jacket as a cushion. In case of an accident, I would be fukced anyway, life jacket on or not as sharks don’t care for life jackets. Bring it on sucker, I am ready to ride the waves, captain style! Such a nice day out called for a nice evening so our friend, M and I grabbed a cheap bite and caught up around a bottle of red wine; who could say no to a $5 bottle of wine?! 

After a day and 1/2 on Bocas, we were ready to travel to our next destination. Next stop: Boquete. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

T for thankful 

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Since one of our friends told us that Cahuita National Park was a MUST, we couldn’t miss it! We were of course still wary of such recommendations after Manuel Antonio but according to her, this was her favorite park because 1) its wildlife was sensational 2) the entrance fee was on a donation basis. Say whaaaat? After bitching for two weeks that Costa Rica was ridiculously expensive, I couldn’t not go to the only park that was affordable! To Cahuita! After an easy bus ride, we found a comfortable and affordable double room (private? Yes sure. Why not) and we couldn’t wait for the next day to explore the park. My wish was to spot snakes. Don’t get me wrong, it has been fantastic to see sloths, monkeys, crocodiles but snakes were missing. They scare (the sh** out of) me as much as they fascinate me but my fear couldn’t stop me. I needed an encounter with the yellow eyelash viper I had seen on an Instagram account I have been following. 

We set off early to increase our chances to spot snakes, one can hope! When we entered the park, we asked the staff how easy it was for us to find snakes and she looked uncertain and answered ‘it can happen’. Hmmm not very useful. However a young man, who had heard us enquiring about snakes, asked us to follow him. He showed us a small tree where a beautiful little viper was curled up. My first yellow eyelash viper! I was so excited. I probably took a zillion pics; she was simply gorgeous. He told us that the day before he spotted 12 of them in the park, we simply had to look around so we felt pretty hopeful. We walked very (very very) slowly, checking trees and bushes next to the trail but we had no luck. I was a bit disappointed as I knew they were around, we were simply missing them. We saw so many beautiful spiders, iguanas, squirrels, monkeys and grasshoppers, my disappointment was soon forgotten. Suddenly M pointed up and this was how we started to spot more and more yellow vipers! Who would have thought they were actually on tree trunks (I expected them to be on branches!). They were pretty thin but long and very scarily fascinating. We walked the 8km trail without seeing many people and instead of taking the bus back, we decided to walk back the same trail as it was gorgeous and peaceful and hoping to spot more snakes. We were rewarded with more vipers (one of the floor might have made me a scare!), a raccoon and a coati. Happy! 

With this wonderful stop in Cahuita we were thankful for, our Costa Rican adventure was coming to an end and we were ready to discover the last remaining country in Central America: Panama. Next stop: Bocas Del Toro

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

R for really glad we didn’t skip Costa Rica…

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… Even though this leg has seriously damaged our daily budget. National parks are insanely unaffordable (15 to 20$ entrance fee – you must be joking?!), restaurants are incredibly overpriced and hostels ridiculously expensive for an off season month. That said, we have absolutely no regrets as we have been having a blast. I can see why so many tourists and travelers are fond of Costa Rica. The landscapes and the wildlife are breathtaking, the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are extremely friendly and the whole country, though developed, still gives you the sense of being an explorer. Gracias Costa Rica! 

After so much fun (and adrenalin) driving on the Nicoya peninsula, we were ready for some chilling, hiking and some more wildlife spotting. After an overnight stop and an early morning walk on the beach in Jaco, where we met a nice Canadian fellow traveler, the 4 of us headed to Quepos. It was apparently the perfect place to explore the park that had been highly recommended to us: Manuel Antonio National Park. 

We found a lovely hostel with a pool and extended (read: anytime really) happy hours. What not to like? After two months of drinking no-alcohol (don’t ask… Not every sure why I decided to take a break when it was most needed in the beginning of this adventure!), those happy hours were more than welcome! We after all had to celebrate our great find! I don’t know if S. has been our lucky charm but we haven’t had any bad hostel experience to report since she has joined us. Mind you, we won’t complain as it has been nice for a change not to wonder whether the sheets were clean or only stained, whether the showers were contaminated or when the bed bunk would fall on our heads. It has been hard finding good places along the way and we were grateful to stumble upon Plinio that was quaint and affordable. We loved our stay there and we could have easily stayed there a few days. It was very close to a waterfall… we failed to find so instead we had to go back to our hostel and chill by the pool. I know, I know, tough life…

After a wonderful Swiss dinner prepared by M (he definitely knows how to cure my homesickness. Have I mentioned that he is a keeper?) and an early night, we were ready to explore Manuel Antonio. We arrived at the park with high expectations so our disappointment was quite big. The 16$ fee was the first bad surprise – where on earth is it ok to charge 16$ to discover a tiny national park? My friend reminded me that Costa Rica was known as the Switzerland of Central America. Well news flash, even in Switzerland, we aren’t that greedy AND our hiking trails are amazing! #justsaying! We almost turned around but we were promised sloths and beautiful beaches, so we stuck around, not impressed. We were also extremely overwhelmed by the amount of guides, aggressively trying to be hired. 

We hoped that our negative first impression would fade away but after spending a few hours in the park, we still couldn’t understand what the hype was about. It was overcrowded, monkeys were clearly used to tourist food and the trails were for the most paved. National parks have always given us the feeling of being closer to nature but this was completely missing at Manuel Antonio. However, don’t get me wrong, it was a great (though expensive) day out in the sun. Walking (this was definitely no hiking) the 5 trails that took us to beaches, miradors and a waterfall (this one at least we found it!) was easy and pleasant. Spotting a sloth made our day, even though he decided to groom itself just above us, sharing his flees and moths with us. It surely cheered us up! 

After our time in Manuel Antonio Park, which left us with mixed feelings, we didn’t know where to go next. We could either hike up Cerro Chirripo over two intense days and be heavily rained on or we could drive down to Corcovado National Park and pay (again) shit loads of money to enter a park and hire a mandatory guide. This was a tough dilemma. To embrace the rainy season or not to embrace it? This is the question! Since hiking  a steep trail under heavy rain somehow didn’t appeal to any of us, I guess next stop: Corcovado National Park, considered one of the world’s most biodiverse regions! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Tuesday yumminess!

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Throughout Central America, we have been fed with tamales. At first, I was skeptical. I mean seriously, THIS. DOESN’T. LOOK. APPETIZING. But after my first ‘unwilled’ bite (M literally force fed me. Pfff, I was not impressed) in the Honduran forest (which I would have called a jungle but this is a different story), I was conquered. It might not be paleo but this is a cheap meal (and god knows that we need it!) which keeps us full for a (long to very long) while. Yeah to tamales! This traditional dish made of masa (a starchy dough) is steamed in a plantain leaf and can be stuffed with, among others, meat. 

We liked the Honduran one we were given while hiking through the jungle and the Guatemalan and Nicaraguan (known as nacatamal) versions were pretty good too.  Glad to keep finding cheap and tasty street food along the way! This saves us from the pricey touristy traps! Since this is a very filling meal, it could be a great dish to prepare for a family or friend gathering. I found an easy recipe because who seriously wants to slave in the kitchen?! This is luckily not a must anymore nowadays! Enjoy!  


Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

K for kindness or the Salvadorian quality the world fails to see!

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After riding many more chicken buses, hitchhiking (sorry, mom!) and traveling to the Northern, Western and Eastern parts of El Salvador, we would like to confirm that our previous statement was spot on: this ‘Don’t go to El Salvador, it is dangerous’ is bullcrap and before someone shouts (people tend to shout at you on social media when they disagree with you. Go figure!) that we were a lucky exception, we did meet a few travelers who had also decided not to follow their governments’ recommendations and were, like us, surprised by the salvadorian kindness and the smiles that welcomed us. After sharing our experiences, we all agreed on this: El Salvador was safe and worth a visit! Nowadays, Europe and the rest of the world are probably far more dangerous than El Salvador and Central America. With those nutters threatening our freedom and sanity, I would rather be robbed by a delinquent than bombed by a fanatic. Ha, this reminds me of the ‘would you rather’ game we have played so many times while road tripping. Fun times!

Our highlight in El Salvador was definitely our time in Santa Ana where we found a home away from home Casa Verde. It was clean (you take this for granted, don’t you? Believe me, this is rarely the case. Sigh. Long life to fliflops), cozy, cheap(ish), with a wonderful kitchen (M even treated us to a Rice Casimir. Gosh, have I mentioned this man is a keeper?!) and a pool! Carlos, the kind owner, made us feel so welcome that we ended up staying 6 nights instead of the two originally planned. From Santa Ana, we were able to visit the Tazumal ruins (It took us only 20 minutes to go around the main pyramid and we were definitely perplex when we realized that this was it. We liked the trail through the forest better as we spotted many birds and other animals), take a day trip to the Cerro Verde National Park to climb the Santa Ana volcano (also known as Ilamatepec), take a peek at the lake Coatepeque and drive the famous Ruta de las Flores. We didn’t make it to the Parque El Impossible, due to heavy rains but we couldn’t wait until the skies clear up and even though Carlos’ hospitality made it hard for us to leave Santa Ana, we had to move on. 

Before leaving El Salvador, we wanted to check either the Southern or the Eastern part. Our choice was easily made when we were told that the coast (Southern El Salvador) was popular among tourists. The Eastern part was mostly ignored as labeled dangerous (ah don’t you love labels?!). We shouldn’t go?! Then I guess we are going! To the East! If locals would have tried to talk us out of it, we would have listened to them. Rumors, however, couldn’t stop us, not anymore and after 6 buses, a ride on an ‘egg’ truck (don’t ask but once again, this Salvadorian kindness!) and 7 hours, we reached the cute mountain town of Alegria. Once we found a bed for the night, we headed to the Alegria lagoon. It was an interesting feeling to walk in a crater of a (even though it is inactive) volcano. The level was quite low and we could have gone for a dip but the water was way too cold (oh the chickens!). Instead we hung out with the locals who came over to treat themselves to a face mask. The volcano yellow mud seemed to have medicinal properties. We weren’t that brave, we went back into town and we will never know what we missed. Without knowing it, we had picked the perfect day to stay in this tow. On Sundays they seem to have a town fair with food stalls everywhere. Yes, El Salvador can indeed be dangerous but the danger is not where you’d expect it! You could easily fall into a food coma by overeating those yummy local (fried) specialities. But what should I have done when surrounded by pastelitos and nuegados of yucca

Alegria, with its food ‘orgy’ and peaceful turquoise lagoon, was the perfect farewell to our Salvadorian exploration as it’s (unfortunately) time for us to leave (nooooooooo!) and cross into Nicaragua *sigh followed by another sigh and… another sigh*. Nothing against Nicaragua. It was described by many travelers as beautiful and cheap but El Salvador and Honduras have stolen our hearts and it will hard for Nicaragua to top up those wonderful experiences. If you are looking for a destination where tourists haven’t ruined the relationship between travelers and locals yet, where it is still possible to feel like an explorer, where smiles are genuine and people want to help you for no other reason than because they have a beautiful soul, El Salvador is for you. 

However, it is really time for us so we here go: Adios El Salvador, hola Nicaragua! 
Next stop: Somoto. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!