Beach Bums

Moving from place to place throughout our journey often required one or two or more different bus rides, which often can be kind of stressful. Many travelers we met along the way had horror stories of missed busses, being robbed on buses, taxi drivers not taking them where they want to go, you name it. Fortunately, Zak and I had great luck and almost all of our travels went incredibly smoothly.

Another textbook sunset.

Another textbook sunset.

Locals pushing a fishing boat out to sea.

Locals pushing a fishing boat out to sea.

Beautiful sunset.

Beautiful sunset.

Gamecocks on a hut at Rancho Esperanza!

Gamecocks on a hut at Rancho Esperanza!

From León, we traveled northward to a tiny little town on the coast called Jiquilillo (hee-key-lee-yo) upon a recommendation from one of Zak’s friends who had recently traveled in Nicaragua. Along the way, we experienced probably our least luckiest travel day, and it wasn’t even that bad. We had to take a bus from León to a small city called Chinandega, where we had to take a cab to a different bus to station to get the bus to Jiquilillo. Because we hadn’t carefully checked the bus schedule before leaving León, we missed the bus from Chinandega to Jiquilillo by about ten minutes, and the next one wasn’t for at least another three hours. On a whim, we got on a different bus that took us about ten minutes north of Chinandega, to an old baseball field/park. After much deliberation and difficulty understanding the bus drivers, we learned that if we kept walking straight on the road we were on that it would eventually lead to Jiquilillo. So, that is precisely what we did. After about twenty minutes of walking in the heat, someone kindly stopped and let us hitch a ride with them in the back of their pickup, which contained about ten other Nicaraguans. Add us and our backpacks in there, and it was pretty cramped. One of the little boys had a tiny puppy curled up in his shirt, which I thought was the cutest thing ever. In the truck, we were able to pass the bus that we had just missed, and the drivers kindly dropped us off right at the bus stop, as they were not going all the way to Jiquilillo. The bus pulled up right after we got dropped off, and we were on our way. Our unluckiest travel day turned out not to be so bad in the long run.

Its surprising to me that Jiquilillo is even on the map. There are a few cart vendors selling chips and cold drinks, one tiny market and a restaurant that is run right out of a family’s own personal kitchen. There are a few places to stay, but I would hardly call them resorts. Children and chickens run all over the dirt road and it seems that most people there are fisherman for a living. We stayed at a place called Rancho Esperanza, which I would highly recommend. They have a dorm, but also several private huts, which we stayed in. There are family style lunches and dinners, which always have a vegetarian option. They have surfboards available for rent, hammocks by the beach, and a cute puppy named Yogi. Everyone staying there was super friendly, and it was fun to hang out with other travelers for a few days while soaking in the sun and surf and reading a lot. We enjoyed spectacular Pacific Coast sunsets every night, long walks on the beach, some frisbee and morning runs. It was a super relaxing environment, definitely different from anywhere else we had been or would go. After three nights and four days, we got back on the chicken bus in order to head to Granada for new adventures.

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Surrounded By Volcanoes

Although Copán Ruínas was a beautiful and friendly town, we had heard very negative things from fellow travelers about safety in Honduras (the Peace Corps pulled out all of their people within the last year, if that tells you anything). Thus, we decided to mostly skip it, and we bussed from Copán to the capital, Tegucigalpa, spent one night in a hotel and took a coach bus into Nicaragua.

We had been looking forward to Nicaragua throughout our journey, and it did not disappoint. Nicaragua borders Honduras to the north, and Costa Rica to the South, and is the largest country in the isthmus of Central America. It is the second poorest and second safest country in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti and Canada, respectively). The vast majority of the population is situated on the pacific coast, which is dotted from north to south with volcanoes.

Our first stop in our three week long journey in the country was a city called León, the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. León is known as the intellectual capital of the country, as it is home to the country’s oldest university, founded in 1813. It draws thousands of students each year, and was also the center of the Nicaraguan Revolution in the late 1970’s and 80’s.

Although the Revolution was ‘over’ in the 1980’s, the FSLN (Sandinistas) still have a strong presence throughout the country, but especially in León. FSLN and pro-Daniel Ortega graffiti are around every other corner, and the corners in between are slathered with anti-Somoza (the dictator overthrown by the revolution) and anti-U.S. graffiti.

Prior to leaving for Nicaragua, I purchased a book called Blood of Brothers, written by journalist Stephen Kinzer, that talks about his experiences covering Nicaragua for the New York Times during the Revolution. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is planning on traveling to Nicaragua, or just wants to learn more about its’ history. 

The temperature in León was sweltering, and humid, but it was nice to warm up after our chilly time in Antigua and Copán Ruínas. We enjoyed walking around and seeing all the sites. There were many churches, including the Cathedral of the Assumption, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For 50 córdobas (2 dollars) you can access the roof of this cathedral, which offers spectacular views of León and its many surrounding volcanoes.

We also visited the museum of heroes and martyrs, which features photos of young Nicaraguans who lost their lives fighting for the Sandinistas during the revolution. It wasn’t the most informative, but it was free, and run by the mothers of the victims. It is just one of many strong reminders of how fragile the country still is.

We also enjoyed playing air hockey at a local game room. Zak still likes to claim that he won, but I have photographic evidence that we tied.

The Last Mayan Ruins

Kitten who joined us for breakfast

Kitten who joined us for breakfast

A Macaw at the feeding station.

A Macaw at the feeding station.

One of the temples.

One of the temples.

 

Zak in the main plaza.

Zak in the main plaza.

A stela of one of the former rulers

A stela of one of the former rulers

In the main plaza

In the main plaza

Hieroglyphic Staircase

Hieroglyphic Staircase

Atop one of the temples

Atop one of the temples

Sketchy electric shower in our bathroom.

Sketchy electric shower in our bathroom.

Okay, WOW. I am a major slacker. I’ve been back in the country now for almost as long as the time I spent traveling and I’m about two months behind on this blog. I really took a break because I couldn’t get my pictures to load on here, and I know thats what you really want to see. I know, excuses, excuses. Well, here goes the rest of it, if you’re still tuned in.

After eating our way throughAntigua for a few days, we crossed the border into Honduras to check out the town of Copán Ruínas, walking distance to the Mayan Ruin site of Copán. Although much smaller than Antigua, it was a cute little town with very friendly citizens, and a distinctly different vibe from Guatemala, despite its proximity to the border. We quickly found a hostel upon arriving and were famished for some dinner.

We had been on the shuttle with an American who was working in the Bay Islands of Honduras, but had spent a fair amount of time in Copán Ruínas, enough time to know about a local German Brew Pub that served fantastic food and beer. We finally made it after a few misguided attempts based on directions from various locals. And it was everything it lived up to be. Owned by a German man and his Honduran wife, the place has a few large tables, that you share with other guests. He has two different beers on tap, a dark beer and a light beer, that are served in huge glasses. They also serve up traditional food; both German and Honduran. The German food was pretty heavy on the meat, so I stuck to the Honduran, and it was delicious. Zak reported that the German food was excellent. We were seated at a table full of young people around our age who all worked in El Salvador, most of them for the US Embassy. It was fun to talk to them and hear about their lives living in El Salvador. With the beer flowing steadily and the owner constantly zipping around, personally serving each customer beer and dinner, it was easy to see why one could easily spend the whole night (and a lot of Lempira) there.

The next day, we woke with mild headaches and hit up a breakfast place across the street before walking out toward the ruins. The ruins are about 3 km outside of town, and there is a great footpath all the way there. It was cool out,  but warmer than we had experienced in Antigua and we were happy to stretch our legs.

Upon entering the ruins site, I was thrilled to see huge macaws in the trees above us. I had never seen any outside of a zoo before, and they are even more beautiful in the wild. According to a sign, these macaws were part of a safe release program at the ruins site, so that hopefully their population will grow. They had a few stands set up to feed them at the site, but the birds are not contained in any way.

The Copán Ruins, while not as impressive as Tikal, are beautiful in their own right. Copán was thought to be the cultural center of the Mayan World, their Paris, if you will. There are many stele of former rulers throughout the main plaza. There is also a ball court, and a residential quarters. The most important feature of the site however is the hieroglyphic stairway, which is 69 feat long and features 2,200 glyphs that make up the longest known Mayan text. Though some of the glyphs are still being reconstructed after the collapse of the temple, the text allowed historians to decipher some of the Mayan language and learn a lot about the history of the Copán site. The staircase is covered now, to protect it from weather, but it is still pretty impressive.

Copán had a lot to live up to, being the last ruins site we visited. Although it wasn’t my favorite (that award goes to Tikal), I still really enjoyed seeing how different it was from all the other sites we visited, despite them all being built by peoples of the same culture. Even now, looking back on the pictures, it continues to amaze me how people managed to build such strong structures that were so high and with such intricate architectural detail that has withstood the test of time.