March 24, 2016 - Monteverde, Costa Rica

After leaving Monteverde, I spent a little more than two weeks traveling with Kelly and Eliza. After meeting in Granada, we spent a few days there just exploring the city and hanging out in the hostel. We didn't really have the energy to do much because it was extremely hot in the city; having all come straight from the mountains we were a bit shocked! We did walk down to the shore of Lake Nicaragua one day though, and also did a big grocery shopping trip to stock up on supplies for our next destination.

We took the first public bus of our trip to Laguna de Apoyo, which is a volcanic lake near Granada. It's the deepest lake in the country and absolutely gorgeous – the cool breeze off the lake and the water itself were such a relief after the heat of the city! We stayed at The Peace Project, which someone Kelly had met had recommended, and it turned out to be very nice. The coolest part was that it's a nonprofit organization that uses the proceeds from the hostel to fund their projects, including English classes for local schoolchildren and environmental protection work. :)

The next day we moved on to Isla de Ometepe, an island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We stayed in two different places, both of which were perfect for me but a little too quiet for Kelly and Eliza! Unfortunately we didn't get to see the well-known Ojo del Agua (it was on the other half of the island and we couldn't find a cheap way to get there) but we did bike and hike to the San Ramon waterfall, which was a challenging climb but absolutely worth it. Overall it was three days of gorgeous sunsets, time at the beach, and natural beauty. And the only mishap was when I left about $35 in the safe at our first hostel, but even that turned out all right when I managed to rent a scooter quite cheaply and zoomed back to get it (which was a fun adventure despite being shaken to bits on the dirt roads)!

After Ometepe, we went to San Juan del Sur, that famed surf and party town in southwest Nicaragua. Unfortunately due to it being such a tourist hotspot, everything is more expensive than elsewhere in Nicaragua. Luckily we found a hostel that let us sleep in hammocks for $5 a night (which was actually more comfortable than being in the hot dorms), and we cooked all our own meals, so we were able to cut down costs while still having lots of fun. We hung out at the beach, swam in some pools above the city, and took surfing lessons! The surfing was really fun, and I was pleased to realize that my lesson in the Canary Islands had paid off, since I was able to stand up almost every time! :D Unfortunately there were no wet suits provided in this hotter climate, and we all got horrible chafing from the wax on the boards, not to mention extremely sunburned! A week later, my arms have only just finished peeling :( It was definitely worth it anyway, but I must admit I didn't join Kelly and Eliza when they went out again two days later! I also got to meet up with Luis and Ali on my last evening – they were in San Juan for a visa run and it was so nice to spend the evening with them before we left the next morning.

We went all the way to the north of Nicaragua on four different buses for our last stop: the city of León. We stayed in Hostal Cerro Negro, which was an extremely friendly family-run hostel with a nice dorm and a very well-equipped kitchen. Although I often don't like big cities, I loved León – it was beautiful, very friendly, and especially lively since it was Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Easter which is a very important holiday in Latin America). The only downside was that it was just as hot as Granada, but at least by that time we were more accustomed to the heat, and we drank an average of about two smoothies a day. One smoothie I tried (mango, strawberry, and passion fruit in orange juice and ice) was so good I had it four times! :)

We went to two museums: the city's contemporary art museum and a smaller one about Nicaraguan myths and legends. We also visited three different churches, including the main cathedral which is the largest in Central America. It was so much fun just to walk around the city; the streets near the cathedral and the Parque Central were packed with vendors and crowds and Semana Santa activities, but there were also lots of quieter spots to explore. One evening a Semana Santa procession came by our hostel; there were hundreds of people, many of them wearing white and carrying paper lanterns. There was a brass band and several float things with figurines of Mary and Jesus, and everyone in its path came to their doors to watch. Towards the end the crowd even started singing a song we sing at my church (“Tú has venido a la orilla”/“You have come down to the lakeshore”) and I was able to join in! Kelly and Eliza had already seen lots of similar processions during their time in Antigua, Guatemala, but I had never seen anything like it and I was extremely impressed.

On my last day in León, Eliza and I went volcano boarding! León is one of very few places in the world that you can do this, and it involves climbing up a small active volcano called Cerro Negro, and then sledding down on a thin wooden board. It was really fun, but not as intense as we were expecting. The hike up wasn't very long or strenuous – the most difficult part was keeping my feet when the wind caught the board I was carrying! At the top we walked a little way along the ridge and to the edge of the crater, where we touched gravel almost hot enough to burn and saw a beautiful view of the surrounding volcanoes. Then after suiting up, we were off! Eliza and I volunteered to go first (there were two tracks) and with a bit of foot-braking it was fast enough to be a little scary but lots of fun! On the van ride back to León we stopped for sodas, and then Eliza and I got yet another smoothie each in our favorite smoothie place.

Throughout the trip, we bought food at supermarkets and markets and cooked our meals ourselves. Eliza was definitely the chef in our group, so often I'd chop things, she'd cook, and Kelly would clean up afterwards – an arrangement that worked for everyone! We definitely saved a lot of money that way, and enjoyed lots of pasta dishes, stir fry and rice, and fresh fruit. In León, it was far too hot to eat anything cooked, so we stuck with salads and cheese plates. My last night was our best concoction (I'm including a picture): we cooked bowtie pasta and then ate it as a salad with olive oil, shredded carrots, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, and feta; Kelly made guacamole with onions and tomatoes and we had chips to go with it; and I bought an entire roll of sliced mozzarella and had it with sliced tomatoes and olive oil. It was so delicious!

Even though we didn't travel together for as long as we'd planned, I was amazed by how much we managed to do in just two weeks! It was so cool to see and do so many new things and meet so many new people. I left Eliza and Kelly on Thursday, and returned to Monteverde (via 14 hours of traveling!) to visit everyone before going home. It's amazing and strange that as I write this, I only have three days left in the traveling portion of my gap year! I will see many of you in Burlington in just a few days!


At the Hostel at the Laguna de Apoyo
View of Laguna de Apoyo
Approaching Isla de Ometepe
Taxi to the Hostel on Isla de Ometepe


Susan Bowden:
April 3, 2016
What wonderful experiences you have had! Welcome home! When does the book get published?
April 13, 2016
Okay, after reading about all these amazing experiences you've had, the only way I can process it all is through statistics. I'll get back to you in a few weeks with some numbers.

Which makes it all the more impressive that you - okay, this is going to sound super weird - that you experienced it all, and were able to take it in and live in the world you were in. Really well done!

Also volcano boarding sounds super cool. Okay, volcano anything sounds super cool...
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