Don’t Wanna Be Just Another Gringa in Paradise

The best adventures challenge and change you, push your comfort levels and open your eyes, and this journey definitely accomplished that and more. Nicaragua presented harsh realities in contrast with beautiful glimmers of hope, the grit and the grime of third world poverty alongside gorgeous beach sunsets in a tourist’s paradise. Not to mention the contrasts between the polished and touristy Costa Rica we just visited, affluent and expensive compared to most of Nicaragua… To say the least, I have come home a different person than when I left. And that is precisely why I travel.

Hectic Managua Markets, Nicaragua 2014Tola at Magic Hour, Nicaragua 2014Touring Managua, Nicaragua 2014

During our last few days in Nicaragua, we hopped in a new friend’s car for a little day trip. Vera had gone with us to Playa Quizala and offered to take us on a tour of Granada and Laguna de Apoyo. First we stopped by her parents’ place on the outskirts of Managua. It was a beautiful gated complex full of well-tended fruit trees of every kind. We went crazy picking mangoes, avocados, guavas, starfruit, mint, tamarind pods, hibiscus flowers, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, bananas, and several fruits that were totally new to us. I will definitely miss the abundance of tropical fruit more than just about anything else in Central America.

On our way to Granada, we stopped at a viewpoint above Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake formed by a volcano, and had a nice view and a quesillo from a street vendor. A bit later we were in the colorful cobblestone streets of Granada, which was colonial and a bit European looking and reminded me a lot of Arequipa, Peru. We drove through the town, which was flanked by a volcano and the enormous Lago de Nicaragua. We stopped for delicious Mediterranean food and walked around the town square, which was in a state of awkward celebration since it was St. Patrick’s Day. There were lots of people in the streets, large dancing puppets on display and music playing, so we had a beer, haggled with street vendors and enjoyed the absurdity of Americans celebrating an Irish holiday in Central America. We all agreed that it sure beat the drunken shitshows going on in most North American cities.

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014 Artisans Near Masaya, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014

On our way back to Managua, we stopped in Laguna de Apoyo in hopes of finding a place to stay for the night, but the hostels were all full. We got drinks at a hostel instead, with a nice bar overlooking the lagoon. The full moon was shining over the deep crater lake, and we decided to go skinny dipping in the lagoon to cool off. The water was perfect and we swam out to a dock to dive in and actually got a bit chilly in the water. It was a perfect night for a moonlit swim.

Full Moon at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014

The next day, we took a bus to Masaya, a bustling artisan town with big markets. We headed to the market that more locals shop at with better prices first, it was much busier, grittier, and more chaotic, but the prices were great. We got dried hibiscus flowers and cacao beans, gifts to take home and a snack. The market sold everything from hammocks to cheesy souvenirs to kitchen items to machetes to shoes. It was full of young kids who were weaving items out of palm fronds, then attempting to hand them to passers by so they could ask for money. They would literally force things into your hand or hang them on you, then come back and ask for money later. They were very creative and talented, but it broke my heart to see young kids that should be in school persistently selling useless gimmicks for pennies while they huffed glue hidden in their shirts outside the markets. The shop keepers were also very persistent and outgoing, trying to lure us into their shops with a few English words and colorful decorations. We didn’t have much money to spend, but James got a bag, I got some gifts and locally made souvenirs, and Genevieve and Ruben each got colorful duffel bags full of gifts and goodies.

Humorous Handicrafts at a Masaya Market, Nicaragua 2014

After the busy first market and some food, we decided to check out the other market on the other side of town and took a tuk-tuk over to it. This market was quite upscale compared to the last one. It was inside a castle-like fortress and had neat, organized stalls full of mostly touristy handicrafts and souvenirs. The prices were at least double what they were in the local market and it felt a lot less “real” but it was interesting to see the contrast. We shopped a bit and had a smoothie before catching a bus back to Managua.

On our last night in Managua, James’s dad threw us a going away party, and lots of friends we had met in Nicaragua came to say goodbye and convince us even more heartily to come back soon. We made veggie kebabs and meat on the grill and had lots of mojitos and local beer. It was a great reminder of all we’d gotten to do on our short trip: making connections by performing for people, volunteering, and exploring a few epic spots as we talked with some of the new friends we had made.

At the party I talked a woman who ran a children’s center for street kids, and she mentioned how easy it is to plug in and find a way to help down there, especially with skills and money from North America. People there want to work with Americans, and there are SO MANY opportunities to get involved and make a difference.

Everywhere we went, I noticed lots of litter and a lack of recycling facilities, tiny pregnant kittens and an abundance of skinny street dogs because spaying and neutering programs are nonexistent, kids living off of nothing and selling stuff on the street who should be learning in school, not to mention people begging, sleeping in the streets, and living in squalor. But I also saw so many signs of promise, creative solutions being put into practice, resourceful people willing to learn and wonderful organizations doing great work to better the lives of Nicaraguans. And I was so impressed with the people, who are in general curious, welcoming, open-minded, politically and historically aware, worldly, conscious, spirited, resourceful, creative and hard-working. As soon as I stepped on the plane home, I wanted to go back. I need to go back. I’m not done with Nicaragua yet.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived in Managua, James and I were convinced we would be back as soon as we could afford to. His dad has a nice home set up with room to spare, and connections with all sorts of forward-thinking people who are involved with exciting projects. He also got us a gig performing with glow toys at a benefit, and even though our impromptu show was awkward and last-minute, we have been invited to come back for more performances and to teach flow arts workshops. The next time we return, we hope to come armed with props to give out to Nicaraguan students, or at least supplies to make props and then teach people how to use them. Which means we both need to learn the art of teaching, a lot more spinning practice, and to brush up on our Spanish skills. We spun fire on the beach twice while in Nicaragua, and everyone who saw it was really interested and excited to learn more. We met a couple fellow spinners and even showed a few random street kids and some new friends a bit about spinning poi and flow wand. Flow arts provided a way for us to instantly connect with people there, and everyone was eager to learn more, which is a wonderful sign and gives us a lot to work on for our next trip! Of course we will get more involved with existing organizations doing good work in Nicaragua, but we can also work on bringing a little something of our own to people who could use a creative outlet and a unique set of new skills.

It is good to be back home, sleeping in my own comfy bed where cuddling doesn’t instantly mean being too sweaty to sleep and I can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet. We may still be in drought and have very little water pressure, but we have hot water and it’s available on demand, 24/7. I have internet, my own computer, my new iPhone replaced with insurance, and work to return to. I have Mendocino rain, my garden and friends…

But as I unpack and sift through the memories from my month abroad, I am filled with a deep need to U-turn and book the next flight back to Managua. I understand even more now why my sister returns to Haiti every year. Being in the third world opens your eyes to the myriad ways we can help our fellow earthlings and make a difference. It also forces you to stare your privilege in the face and leaves you feeling intensely grateful for everything you have in life. I came home so full of gratitude and very inspired. It’s an amazing elated feeling, especially considering how broke I am after that long trip!

I hope to return to Nicaragua for an extended period in the future. Perhaps I can bring my computer and work from there for a few months. We can teach flow arts, get involved with local organizations, and become immersed in Spanish and a completely different culture. I wouldn’t mind a bigger dose of the humility that comes from doing without the comforts I am used to, adjusting to a new environment and being an outsider looking in on how different cultures live. I can see why James calls Nicaragua his second home, and it has more to do with how the place feels than the fact that he went to fourth and fifth grade there. I feel the magnetism of home in Nicaragua, and it will definitely pull me back.

Nothing compares to immersing yourself in the culture of a foreign place, coming out of the shell of your day to day routine to intertwine your life with those of others in different far-away places. The thrill of the road, the chaos of chicken buses and bustling markets and chatter in a language you barely understand, swallowing a bit of salt water after getting tossed by ocean waves, jumping off a waterfall into a cold pool, not knowing where you’ll sleep the next night or where the road will take you is incomparable and essential to the evolution and fulfillment of a well-rounded life. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for travel, for tales of adventure heard and read, for road trips and Girl Scout camp, for National Parks and backpacking, for long flights to Europe and hooping at Machu Picchu. To travel and see new things is to experience life to the fullest, and inspired by my recent journey, I go back home and back to work as my recent experiences percolate through my mind and remain near to my heart…

Adios, Central America. I will return. Next time with more Spanish skills, hula hoops, poi, the ability to teach flow arts in Spanish, money, and more time to spend there. Gracias por todo, mis nuevos amigos. <3

Check out more photos from our trip on Flickr.

Nicaragua Love

We’ve only been in Nicaragua for a week and a half, but I am already looking forward to our next trip here. The people are amazing, hospitable, and creative. My only complaint is getting cat called when walking or riding around in Managua… Latin American machismo is not my favorite thing ever, but they’re mostly harmless and it is rather adorable seeing James yell back “es MIA!” to the guys blowing kisses and whistling at us.

Lights of Managua, Nicaragua 2014

Group Photo in Managua 2014

Managua is a huge sprawling city, bustling and gritty but MUCH less chaotic and crazy than San Jose. The streets are lined with trees, street art, and lots of colorful lights (even the taxis and buses are decorated with LEDs and bright paint jobs). We have visited a couple of busy open-air markets full of stalls selling everything from shoes to fruit to furniture. We got a tour in the back of a pickup through the city in the evening from one of James’s childhood friends from when he lived here, Elmer. He showed us some lovely parks and monuments, the old center of town that was destroyed by earthquakes, and the beautiful port along Lake Managua. We visited Elmer’s family in Tipitapa and had a delicious traditional lunch. As much as I am not normally a fan of big busy cities, Managua is definitely growing on me and it helps that we are staying with locals and meeting great people.

Last weekend we went to Playa Quizala on the Pacific coast with James’s dad, his roommate, and several of their friends. We stayed at a cute little place called Paraiso Bikini and had it to ourselves. We got to swim in the ocean and pool, hunt for treasure along the beach (I have never seen so many sea shells! And such big sand dollars!), enjoy tasty beverages and BBQs, and James, Ruben, and I spun fire on the sand, much to the delight of the innkeeper and his family, who were taking photos to put on their Facebook page. We got lots of sun, played music till the wee hours on the jukebox, slept in hammocks in a beach bungalow, and had a blast making new friends.

Paraiso Bikini Party Time, Nicaragua 2014 Paraiso Bikini Party Time, Nicaragua 2014

James Spinning on Playa Quizala at Sunset, Nicaragua 2014Ruben and James Spin Fire at Paraiso Bikini

This week we went to another beach, Tola, which had epic huge waves and a fancy resort where James’s dad was doing massage work for a few days. We enjoyed pitchers of mojitos (!!!) and spotted all kinds of creatures in the tide pools. We put on a little fire show at a surf shack and met a local hooper named Saffron who tried my fire hoop for her second time hooping with fire. We even made a few tips passing a hat around during our show.

We left Tola by bus and headed to Rivas, then San Jorge, where we caught a ferry across the enormous Lago de Nicaragua to the volcanic island of Ometepe. Two beautiful volcanoes form the island, Concepcion and Maderas. The lake is so huge that you can’t even see across it, and the huge island looms in the center, with the cone of Concepcion towering over it. We got off the boat in Moyogalpa and had a delicious lunch before catching a bus to Chico Largo hostel, near the center of the island and Laguna Charco Verde. James had stayed at the hostel the last time he was on Ometepe in 2012 and it was a gorgeous place right on the lake. We went for a walk along the lake shore and found volcanic crystals and rock outcroppings formed by lava flows. On our walk we stopped to check out a neat tree and saw movement overhead – there were four monkeys up in the tree! We sat and watched them for a while as they jumped from branch to branch and made all kinds of noise. They were adorable and the first monkeys we’d seen on the trip, so of course I took a million photos. We watched the sunset with the monkeys and walked back to the hostel to have dinner.

Ometepe Monkeys, Nicaragua 2014 Sunset on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Spin Jam on Lava Rocks on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

The next morning we got up and headed to a zip line canopy tour! We got harnesses and helmets and hiked up a steep hill between the volcanoes, where we had a great view of the lagoon and lake below and the dry tropical forest canopy all around. We got to zip around from platform to platform in the trees on the zip lines, taking in the views as they whizzed by. We even got to go upside down on one of the lines, and James and I both got to do one together, which was hilarious since I was bent forward in front of him flying as he held on and braked for us both. We saw a couple of monkeys up in the trees from one of the platforms, the howler monkey kept making noises at us since we were in his turf. It was SO MUCH FUN zipping around in the trees and the guides even took my camera and got great pictures of all of us.

Zip Line Canopy Tour on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Howler Monkey on Our Zip Line Tour, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

After the zip line tour, we checked out of Chico Largo and got on a bus to Santo Domingo, a little town on the back side of the island on the bridge between the volcanoes. It was super windy, especially on that side of the island, but with the tropical heat, we welcomed the cooling breeze. The first thing we saw when we got off the bus was a vegetarian restaurant, which I was super stoked to see! We had a delicious veggie lunch and then walked through the town looking for a place to stay, which took a while because many of the hotels were quite fancy and we were on a budget. We finally found one and settled in. We went for a walk on the beach and found a nice pool to cool off in for a bit. We had dinner at a cheap local place and played cards before falling asleep early. The next morning we got up and had breakfast and delicious smoothies at the vegetarian restaurant before walking towards Ojo de Agua, a cold mineral water spring in the middle of the island. It was AMAZING and we spent most of the day there, swimming in the crystal clear mineral water pools, drinking coconut water fresh from the coconuts, lounging, and checking out the farm behind the swimming hole. It was a beautiful and relaxing day. We got back to town and had a meal, then relaxed in our room and made some drinks with Flor de Caña rum and Shaler cola – local specialties.

Ojo de Agua, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Coconuts at Ojo de Agua, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Playa Santo Domingo and Volcan Maderas on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

This morning it was hard to leave Ometepe, especially since there was still so much there to see. Since it’s Sunday, there was only one bus to Moyogalpa on the other side of the island. We had a smoothie and waited for the bus, and when it arrived, we barely fit on the back of the bus, crammed in with tons of locals and tourists. I had to sit on a bag of beans and Ruben had to put his pack on the top of the bus. It was packed to the gills, definitely the most crowded bus we have been on yet, but that’s just part of the adventure! We had brunch on Moyogalpa before getting on the ferry back to the mainland and catching another bus back to Managua.

Tomorrow we are heading to Masaya, a local artisan village full of markets, and Granada, stopping by Laguna Apoyo to swim, a volcanic crater lake. We leave Thursday evening for home, if we can manage to pry ourselves away from this amazing place!

This trip has been amazing. I can’t believe almost a month has gone by and how many beautiful places we’ve seen. It has even been much easier for me to find vegetarian food than I thought – gallo pinto (rice and beans) is delicious, tostones (fried plantain slices) are better than fries, and quesillos (tortillas with cheese and a gooey cream sauce) are divine. We will definitely be trying these recipes at home. And the rum here is awesome, I have been drinking more here than I do at home for sure. I don’t even drink coffee at home, but the coffee here is so good that I can’t resist. We’ll definitely be bringing some of both home!

I can’t wait to share all the photos of the trip – all 2,500 or so that I’ve taken so far. Stay tuned for a glimpse!

Mucho Fruta!

Well, we’re alive! No issues on our red eye flight other than lack of actual sleep, and we managed to find the right buses and the place we are staying in Atenas with one of James’s dad’s friends. Atenas is a super cute little hilly town FULL OF FRUIT TREES!!! We walked around town picking not quite ripe mangos, guavas, starfruit, bananas, and searching for elusive avocado trees. We mostly just chilled and rested yesterday, but we did get to enjoy some piña coladas and smoothies made with lots of local fruit and Nicaraguan rum.

Fruit Hunting in Atenas, Costa Rica 2014

James, Zac, and I took a bus to San Jose today to get our Uvita bus tickets and check out the city. This place is CRAZY. Super narrow streets, cars and people everywhere, and man are internet cafes hard to find! But we did find a vegetarian restaurant. Now to get bus tickets, check out the Contemporary Art and Design museum, and head back to Atenas tonight only to come back here in the morning to catch our bus to Uvita.

James Spinning in San Jose, Costa Rica 2014 A Park in San Jose, Costa Rica 2014 Bromeliad on Palm: the Beginning of Plants on Plants in Atenas, Costa Rica 2014

Envision starts Thursday, until then we’re staying in the beautiful and rustic looking Cascada Verde hostel in Uvita. It is beautiful here and the people are super friendly (other than all the cat calls Genevieve and I have been getting as we walk around – but even those are friendlier and less vulgar than the ones in the states).

Pura vida! Hasta luego!

It’s All Gettin’ Real!

Envision BannerA week from now, I will be in San Jose, Costa Rica, exploring a bit and getting supplies and a bus ticket to Uvita before Envision Festival. OMG. This is really happening!

I returned home from a retreat for work on the icy east coast last weekend, and apparently brought the winter weather back with me, because it’s finally raining on the North Coast, and with the drought we’ve been in, I am very happy to see it. It also makes me even more excited to escape this wet and cold wintery weather to a lush, warm, sunny tropical paradise where I can eat papayas as big as my head and sip frosty beverages from coconuts.  Sorry, I can’t help but rub it in! This will be my first time “escaping” to somewhere tropical in the winter and the first international trip I have planned myself (actually, only the first week is planned, after that… it’s pretty open). I’ve never gone on a trip with a group of friends before, and I’ve definitely never been out of the country for a month at a time, so this will be an exciting adventure indeed! I just hope it’s not too expensive, because it’s been a slower winter than we were hoping for. But thanks to friends and family, and having places to stay in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for much of our journey, this magical journey is going to go off without a hitch, I can just feel it! If you’d like to help us save up some last minute trip money, please see this post and shop for crafty creations!

I’ve been listening to Envision Festival’s Soundcloud to get pumped up for the music we’ll be seeing there. Two sets of Tipper will be mind-blowing enough, but we are about to shake so much booty to great music in the jungle, it’s unbelievable. The fact that I was lucky enough to earn Envision tickets by street teaming will make this festival even more rewarding. I love being able to be involved in a festival more than just experiencing it as a spectator.

It’s been a busy rainy weekend full of laundry and dishes, laying out and eliminating clothes, piling up stuff to pack, getting last-minute gear and figuring out logistics (plus dying my hair – now this week I just need to chop it off). I’m feeling pretty ready at this point. Just a few more pieces need to fall into place and we’ll be ready to have the time of our lives! Pura vida, I am ready! Vive la experiencia!

Be sure to check out this blog for updates during our trip and I’m sure I’ll upload a few photos to Facebook along the way. And please get in touch with me or leave a comment if you’ll be traveling in Central America and want to meet up, or have places to see or stay to recommend. Thanks for the support! 🙂

So Much WIN! Our Envision Adventure Just Got Even Better!

I received some most excellent news yesterday that’s had me bouncing around doing the happy dance ever since. Thanks to you awesome people using my discount code for Envision tickets and our street teaming efforts posting & handing out flyers/stickers, talking about the festival on social media, and promoting the event, I’ve earned TWO tickets for James and I to go to Envision. I never expected that joining the street team would pay off this much — I was cautiously hoping for at least one ticket, but we bought super early bird tickets just in case (which took less than a day to sell on Facebook). So now we have more money towards our trip (thank you to the lovely ladies who bought our tickets!) and maybe we can even manage a quick visit to the beautiful Corn Islands in Nicaragua

And I thought I couldn’t get any more excited for this trip. The yoga and movement workshops are starting to be announced as well as speakers for the event, and  I was thrilled to find out that one of my personal heroes, Julia Butterfly, will be speaking there, so I may even have the chance to hug my favorite tree hugger/sitter! Oh my glob, I can hardly contain myself! I can’t even watch this preview video without jumping up and down and squealing like a schoolgirl:

There’s still time to join us at Envision! Tickets are available (don’t forget to use my discount code!) and flight prices are still decent! The lineup is pretty amazing, and you can’t beat the location for a tropical escape in the winter…

And it gets even better… Envision is just the beginning of our adventure! We are getting together with the friends we are traveling with tonight to reserve our first few nights of hostels and get some plans squared away. This is becoming REAL. A month from today, we will be getting ready to fly out of San Francisco and start the longest international adventure I’ve ever been on (James lived in Nicaragua as a kid, so he’s got me beat there. Two weeks in Peru wasn’t enough for me, and I doubt a month in Costa Rica and Nicaragua will be enough either).

Please comment if you’ve been to Costa Rica or Nicaragua and have places to recommend that we see. We’re especially interested in volunteer opportunities, preferably in Nicaragua and having to do with animals, wildlife, conservation, or anything helping the locals become more sustainable – that we could help out with for a short time during our visit. We appreciate any travel tips or not-to-miss sights we can get, especially since most of our trip will be unplanned and open-ended so we can ask around and be open to whatever we find on the journey.

Only one more month to go… Stay tuned for my last-minute fundraising posts soon as we scramble to save all the pennies we can! And of course, I’ll be posting travel stories and photos here during and after the trip so you can all join us vicariously. Let the countdown begin!

Envisioning a Beautiful 2014

As I’m sure you’re aware if you follow me on social media at all, I am REALLY REALLY excited for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in February & March. Shortly after landing in San Jose, we’ll be heading to the Pacific coast near beautiful Uvita, Costa Rica for Envision Festival, a music, movement & arts festival that will be my first international festival experience. (Technically I guess it’s still a west-coast music fest though, and I’ve been to plenty of those!)

Envision Festival 2014 Music Lineup

So far James and I have bought our festival tickets and booked our flights, and even recruited a few friends to share the adventure with! We will be exploring a few sites in Costa Rica after the festival before heading over the border to Nicaragua, where James’s dad is living, so we’ll have a nice home base in Managua.

As hard as it is for me, I am trying not to over-plan so that we can freely explore when we get there and go with the flow without a strict schedule. But I do have a short wish list for the trip: I’d like to zipline through beautiful rainforest or cloud forest canopy, enjoy a fancy tropical drink out of a coconut at a swim-up bar, spin fire on the beach at sunset, hike in the jungle to beautiful waterfalls and epic volcanoes, visit and volunteer at a wildlife refuge or permaculture farm or some such worthy place, and best of all SEE TIPPER LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN COSTA RICA!!! 😀

I can already tell that 2014 is going to be a wonderful year! Please comment with recommendations for things to do and see in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, people to stay with and places we could volunteer for a few days are especially welcome!

And if you’re up for an adventure to close out this winter, JOIN US! Get your Envision Tickets here, and use discount code STmeganp14 during checkout to receive $5 off! It is going to be a beautiful trip in an amazing place… And now you know what I’m working towards all winter. 🙂