Category: Places

Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

We drove through five or six streams and one river to get here. One of the more adventurous roads we’ve taken. Of course, we could’ve taken a slightly longer route on a paved road…. But, well, we didn’t. Andrea and I broke up and got back together twice in route.

Beach Score: 7 out of 10

Much like Playa Grande, this is a surf beach. Big waves. Riptides. Strong currents. I was tackled by a couple waves. Nearly lost my shorts on one. We couldn’t let the kids swim past their knees.

The beach is, however, sightly. Like Playa Grande, most (if not all) the structures are a block or so off the beach. Thus, when relaxing, molding into that honey sand, you’re not distracted by commerce. You and surfers have the waves and views to yourself.

La Negra Surf Hotel

Every hotel in Guiones was a surf hotel. Seemingly. What separates a surf from a regular hotel? A bunch of surf boards in a cage. And a bunch of bros (and whatever the female word is for ‘bros’) talking about things that don’t make sense to us non-surfers. Seemingly.

La Negra was nice enough to let us camp in their parking lot (mostly because Andrea’s dad rented a room). La Negra’s design is simple and beautiful. Beautiful in its simplicity. Reminds one that you don’t need much — space, decor, amenities — to experience amazing locales. Just a roof. And preferably AC and wifi.

Golden Shower

Andrea’s dad bought and brought for us a superzoom camera, mainly to assuage my burgeoning birdie addiction. I was snapping some Rufous-napes Wrens with said camera when I felt rain. I glanced up at the cloudless sky. Then saw a howler money.

E Surf

Everett went to bed one night as motivated as I’ve ever seen him. Said he wanted to wake at the butt-crack of dawn (didn’t use that exact phrasing) to go surfing. I told him I’d take him, figuring his enthusiasm would wane by the morning. I was wrong. As soon as the sun rose, we hit the beach. Everett spent an hour practicing, without help or instruction (not that I’m capable of giving either). Caught a few waves. Then exited and told me he’s going to need a better surfboard.

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

We spent the last four weeks touring surf beaches with Andrea’s pop (excellent surfer) and sister (occasional surfer). We, The Lingles, aren’t surfers — though Everett is learning! — so we can’t comment much on the surf, but we can on the beach.

No Beer for You!

I’ve commented, ad nauseam, about the piss-quality beer in Central America. Hence when I saw the Delirium signs — one of my favorite Belgian breweries — outside the restaurant next to our hotel, I was excited. Darn near dumfounded.

I marched inside, flashing clumps of colones (Costa Rica’s currency). A scraggy, sweaty hombre sat behind the bar and a laptop. A joint sizzled from an ashtray next to him. Two kids played iPads on a nearby couch. I immediately asked, in Spanish, if I could procure the sweet sweet nectar. May have even claimed it was necessary for medical reasons. I was told, with the tone of a methed-up prostitute, that they don’t sell that beer. Then I asked him why they had the beer signs. Then I was showed the exit.

Beach Score: 7 out of 10

Can a beach be too big? Yes. In my opinion. I prefer bays. Coves. Bights even. More intimate beaches. Where I can see land — preferably verdant land — in my periphery.

Playa Grande is, well, grand. But not too big. Hills are just visible, on a clear day, on either end of the beach. The length lacks intimacy. However, since a strip of protected rainforest (to protect leatherback turtle procreation) gallops between the beach and civilization, the width feels intimate. You don’t see hotels, restaurants, houses, any permanent structures really. Just a few surf shacks, miles of mangroves and palms, and a smattering of sun-dyed surfers.

Dems Da Breaks

The beach drops precipitously a few meters into the ocean. Great for surfers — there’s a break, seemingly, for every skill of surfer — not so much for swimmers. But the golden, pillowy sand is excellent for relaxing and spectating. Andrea’s dad caught a few epic waves here.

(Photos courtesy of Isabella Ossiander, Andrea’s sister)

Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

She sells seashells by the seashore, she sells seashells by the seashore, she sells….

She can find her supply here.

Jungle River

Before heading to Playa Conchal, the Lingles — my family, my parents, and my brother’s family — went on a two-hour boat tour on the Tempisque River in Palo Verde National Park. It was awesome. Like floating through The Jungle Book. We saw howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, scarlet macaws, dozens of crocodiles, and more. Our guides were friendly and informative. And they even let our kids drive the boat!

Shells, Shells, and More Shells

An entire beach of pea-sized shells. From the jungle to the sea.

We’ve seen one other beach like this in Costa Rica, in Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean side. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Just that it was, evidentially, a mass graveyard for mollusks. At Conchal, I pontificated mucho about it. Like why have so many mollusks been murdered near this beach? How many hermit crabs are around here scouting new homes? And why, just one beach over, are there no shells?

I ruminated on that last question the most. Mes dumb head thing couldn’t understand why, seemingly, no mollusks were squirming around the outcrop and depositing their shells on the neighboring Playa Brasilito, a wide, tan, and all-sand beach a mere hundred feet away.

I determined, the only logical explanation, really, is that Playa Conchal is in a mollusk vortex, where all Central America molluks’ spent shells drift to while being crushed and polished by the waves. That, or some dastardly tunas committed mollusk genocide several centuries ago.

Beach Score: 8.5 out of 10

The shells are, mostly, white. This white shines turquoise in the water. From a distance, from the hilltop one must ascend between Playas Brasilito and Conchal — unless you’re paying beaucoup bucks to stay at the all-inclusive Westin — the beach looks like sand and as picturesque, as idyllic as any screensaver shot you’ve ever seen.

And while the shells do have a massaging quality to them, like walking in those old-school Adidas slippers with all the black rubbery nubs, I wouldn’t classify the beach as comfortable. You’d want a chair or a towel if you are going to spend an entire day here. The shells also seem to be magnets for nether regions. I think Everett (see photo below) is still finding shells in various orifices.

Regardless, especially with a good pair of Chacos, this beach is increíble. The waves are slight. Lake-ish. But what makes them unique is not their stature but their sound. As they shuffle the shells, they whistle. It’s more melodic than sand. More soothing than sand.

There’s also excellent sights above and below the ocean. Rocks peek from the bay like wack-a-moles, just waiting to get slammed by errant waves. Jungle juts from surrounding cliffs. Islands pepper the horizon. And below the rocks, cliffs, and islands, sea life flourishes. Butterflyfish, pufferfish, starfish, and all kinds of other fish zigzag in and out and around the rock formations, as if they’re the ones creating the vortex for the mollusks — or eating them.

A must visit on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

The road to the beach tells you much about the beach itself. Rough and potholed: probably an underdeveloped, lonesome beach. Smooth and paved: developed and crowded. Thus as our van purred closer the beach on perfect asphalt while high-end condos, villas, and resorts peekabooed through the jungle canopy, I figured we’d pay for it. Parking, food, drinks, our general comfort level, whatever. But I was wrong.

Theft

Theft is rampant, nearly omnipresent in Costa Rica. Everyone has warned us about it at every stop. Our paranoia has become palatable. We’ve also secondhand experienced it: our former traveling buddy Steve had cash and clothing stolen, a German couple we camped near on the Caribbean had their electronics and passports stolen, and we met a Swiss couple that had everything except their passports (thankfully!) stolen.

Thus, as we’ve learned and been instructed, you either need to pay for parking or park right on the beach (and keep vigilant eyes on your stuff). Some folks take everything out of the car and just leave the car open, to avoid having it broken into. Fortunately at Playa Flamingo, you can park right on the beach.

Beach Score: 7.5 out of 10

If your teacher asked you to draw a beach, it’d end up looking like Flamingo: crescent-shaped, verdant hills, and whitish sand. If your family asked you to pick kid-friendly beach, it’d end up being like Flamingo: wide, long, and flat with Tempurpedic-like sand, few rocks, and gentle waves. Perfect beach to kick a soccer ball. Toss a football. Or play that one paddle game that I see everywhere but can’t seem to buy anywhere.

Flamingo has most of what makes an awesome beach. Most. What it doesn’t have is funky, inexpensive lodgings and restaurants — what have become our preference on this trip — and snorkeling. Besides one hopped-up stingray, that kept hopping through the waves near us, the only unusual sea-life I saw was a plethora, a virtual sea forest, of sand worms jutting from the sea floor on the north end of the beach. They grossed me out enough to get out of the water.

Finally, despite the luxury looking down at us from the hills above, Flamingo never felt snooty. We never felt underdressed in other words — despite, quite literally, being underdressed; all our swimsuits are a thread or two away from being nude suits. It also never felt crowded. I suspect, most times of the year and days of the week, you’d have plenty of space to yourselves on this near perfect family beach. Just park your car nearby.

Pink Sand

Flamingo’s cream-colored sand has a pinkish hue. Or at least I think it does. I’d read that, certain times during the year, the sand gets pink. Hence the name. However, it’s quite possibly, quite probably actually, that after reading that before arriving, my feeble, easily-influenced mind projected pink into the sand. Preconceived notions and all that.

(Photos courtesy of my parents)

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

We’ve been traveling with family — my family first, now Andrea’s family — down Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, hitting most of the major beaches, and a few minor ones, as we inch toward Panama. Figured I’d write shortish posts on each stop. For our memoirs mostly. But hopefully also for your information (and enjoyment), if case you ever venture down here.

Beach Score: 7 of 10

Ocotal checks most boxes: More croissant- than crescent-shaped, but shapely nonetheless. A smattering of islands in the distance. Boats bobbing in the bay. Jungle sights and smells and sounds. The quintessential beach restaurant (Father Rooster, where the picture above was taken). Checks most…

Black Sand

I take back what I wrote about black sand beaches.

While I can’t verify this with any statistical certainty, given the scant samplings, but (I think) I like black sand more than tan. More than beige. Honey. Even cappuccino. While white — the less hue, the better — remains my favorite, black is nudging into second. If only for its rarity.

The Sands of Ocotal

Playa Ocotal, in spots, primarily toward the south end of the beach, has truly black sand. No hue. Absorbs all light. We’ve visited other black sand beaches — like Playa Negra, a beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side — but they’re more charcoal. Gray even.

You’d think, or at least I’d think, given its color and source (volcanic rock) that the Ocotal sand would be rough, raw, scrape-inducing. It’s anything but. It’s the softest sand I’ve ever felt. Like walking on black satin.

The satin is, however, limited to the beach. As it nears the water, it swirls with coarser tan sand. It doesn’t blend, like creamer eventually into coffee, but swirls. Coexists with the tan. Two different sands. Side by side. Then, toes into the water, rocks and shells join the sand, like marshmallows on hot chocolate. Only much harder.

Snorkeling & Secret Beach

The snorkeling was good. No coral reef, but a sufficing of tropical fish, sea fans, starfish, sea anemones, and fish fish — even saw a few spotted eagle rays — zigzagging between the rocks abutting the surrounding cliffs. It was just good enough to compel me to snorkel around the cliffs, revealing an uninhabited beach on the other side. Thought briefly about what’d it be like to Tom Hanks on that beach before plummeting back into the sea.

End with a Joke

Here’s a joke written by Everett: “Why do you throw the clock out the window? Because it’s alarming.”

The Cloud Forests of Costa Rica

The Cloud Forests of Costa Rica

Or at least two of them.

We’ve ventured near cloud forests thrice on this trip: camped near one in Mexico, hiked near one in Guatemala, and intended but got blockaded near one in Nicaragua. We’ve ventured into cloud forests twice (thus far) in Costa Rica.

Biodiversity

Despite occupying less than 1% of the world’s woodlands, cloud forest contain 15% of the world’s biodiversity. Or some remarkable stat like that. I can’t remember the exact numbers from the brochure I read — and Google isn’t helping at the moment — but, basically, lots of bio stuff happens in little space.

Monteverde

We went to Monteverde to witness this biodiversity. Or at least Andrea and the kids did. I went to see the Replendent Quetzal, a brilliant bird that eluded us in Guatemala, and to save you the drama, continues to elude us in Costa Rica…. We did see lots of clouds, however.

We arrived at dusk. The guards were chipper enough to let us camp just outside the gate. One even called me “dude”. They also encouraged us to check out the Colibrí (hummingbird) Cafe just outside the park. So we did. Hundreds of hummingbirds, from the cute and endemic Coppery-headed Emerald to the larger and aggressive Violet Sabrewing, buzzed our ears. It was awesome. It would, however, be the most birds we’d see.

We entered the park as soon as it opened. 7am. It was sunny. Briefly. Within meters of entering, the clouds, like an army of weary soldiers, began marching toward the forest. Then it began to drizzle. Then the wind began to whisper. We, like the guards from the previous night, who had remanned their posts that morning, remained chipper. We’ve fought weather before.

We spotted two Bananaquits and one Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush a few meters later. Except for one errant Azure-hooded Jay halfway into the hike, that’s all we’d spot. The entire hike. The allied forces of clouds, rain, and wind assaulted us for the next four hours. Visibility was reduced to a few meters. Yet the hike remained enjoyable. We even crossed a hanging bridge at one point.

As soon as we exited the park, the forces relented. A troop of howler monkeys appeared. A Green Hermit buzzed my ears. We retreated to the Colibrí Cafe for brownies, coffee, and hot chocolate.

Santa Elena

We took my parents — who left yesterday (sad face) after spending the last two weeks touring Costa Rica with us — to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest to see the Quetzal, err, biodiversity. Unfortunately, we saw much of the same: clouds, rain, and wind. Oh, and much more mud.

Santa Elena is an equally impressive forest in terms of terrain, though the trails aren’t as well-maintained. We hiked through mud the entire three hours — Everett and my father both had epic plummets into the mud. But, like in Monteverde, the hike was still beautiful. Otherworldly. Like venturing through a fantasy.

Here Comes The Sun, Doo Doo Doo Doo

If you visit the cloud forests of Costa Rica — and you certainly should! — stay nearby and wait for the weather to break before entering. You’ll see much more biodiversity if you do.

Costa Caribe, Costa Rica

Costa Caribe, Costa Rica

We spent almost two weeks — and I struggled / hated myself for typing this next word, but it just seemed like the right word — chillaxing on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Despite raining nearly 75% of the time, it was epic.

Sloths, Sloths, Two Toed Sloths, Three Toed Sloths

Everett’s song about sloths, performed below, has been stuck in my mind since he penned it. We may have the next John Lennon on our hands.

We saw our first sloth within the first hours of arriving at the beach. I decided to stroll to the granite cliffs jutting from the north end of the beach, witnessed some folks oddly ogling a tree, and then saw the sloth. Sloths actually. The mom (actually, that’s sexist: it could’ve been the dad) was carrying a baby that, like the algae that gives the gray-brown sloth its green hue, seemed to be growing from the mom’s fur.

The baby and mom (or dad!) eventually — eventually — climbed, upside down remind you, over two palm trees to sniff and/or communicate with a third sloth that, unbeknownst to our eyes, was cuddled up in a crevice of a mango tree. Then they began climbing out of site. We never saw them again. Haven’t seen sloths since.

E’s Sloth Song

Winch

Two paths lead to the campsite. One on sand. One on mud. We chose mud. We chose unwisely. Our winch, which had remained complacently dormant in our front bumper, got its first workout.

Arrecife & Punta Uva

We camped on Playa Arrecife, named for the large reef (‘arrecife’ means ‘reef’ in Spanish) protecting the playa, ensuring only gentle waves coddle the shore. This was, using my perfect beach criteria discussed here, the second best beach area we’ve visited on this trip. Soft, like marshmallows beneath your feet, sand, lush jungle vegetation, and spectacular snorkeling. Only the beaches near La Paz have been better.

We also visited the neighboring playa, Punta Uva, a couple times. It’s considered one of Costa Rica’s best. And it deserves the accolades. A recessed cove encased by jungle cliffs. Felt very lost-on-a-deserted-island-esque.

Cahuita

We visited Cahuita Nacional Parque, just outside of the town of Cahuita, on our way back toward the Pacific Coast. The guard, after extracting the remaining colones from my wallet — parks are expensive here — showed us two venomous toxic yellow Eye Lash Vipers a few meters beyond the entrance. I was feeling pretty good about our hike.

The hike was cool, temperature- and sight-wise. It rained, on and off, mas or menos, most of the hike. Even when we took a break to swim in the ocean. From what we could see, as we winded along the windy path kissing the beach, the park is beautiful. Wild. Captivating. The type of beach and jungle that would claim your soul, prevent you from returning to reality if you stared too intensely into it eyes.

We hiked in our snorkel gear to check out two of the reefs beyond two of the more scenic beaches we’ve experienced in Costa Rica, Punta Vargas and Punta Cahuita. Unfortunately, once we got there, signs warned us that you can’t snorkel in the reefs without a local guide. Too bad they didn’t have the same signs near the entrance…. Oh well. Dems da breaks.

Playa Negra

The following day, we visited Playa Negra just north of Cahuita, named for it’s volcanic black sand, which was quite possibly the softest sand we’ve ever felt. The beach is also flat, wide, and long, making it the perfect beach to harness your inner negligent parent and let your kids roam free (as our kids did).

Between bouts of negligence and scouting sloths in the surrounding trees, Andrea and I did swim with the kids. During one swim, both Andrea and I got bit by something. Me in the buttocks. Andrea in the calf. Andrea’s bite drew blood. Later that night, we corned our hosts — an affable North Carolinian and Costa Rican (Tico, as the locals say) couple — and, likely dramatically, told them about our encounter with the nefarious sea beast. Our hosts were bewildered. They’ve been swimming in the same stretch of sand for twenty years and have never been bit. Dems da breaks.

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

We planned to arrive in Costa Rica the second week of July. Due to some unfortunateness in Nicaragua, we arrived the third week of June. Our family is visiting us here starting July 12th; thus we have time to kill and chill. We decided to head toward Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

La Fortuna

We made one stop in route: La Fortuna. The second most visited area in the county. And it certainly felt like it. Everything was commoditized. A walk in the jungle? You’ll pay for that. A chocolate tour? $20 per person! — and Everett is now considered a person! Costa Rica, using my best Dennis Green impression, is what we thought it was. A touristy country. Albeit a gorgeous one.

Volcan La Fortuna is what you think of when thinking of volcanoes: a consummate conical mass with a cup-like crater at the top. All enveloped by jungle. The volcano was active a decade ago. Magma bubbled daily. Now, tourism has shifted to the perimeter: jungle tours, waterfall hikes, zip line excursions, river rafting, birding, walking over suspension bridges, ATVing, hot springing, and more.

Terme Los Laureles

We camped in a grassy lot in front of one of the many geothermal hot spring parks abutting the volcano. Save a few employees, no one was around. It’s low season. Rainy season. If you can tolerate the dampness — I’m not convinced anything in our van has been dry since we arrived — you’re rewarded with, presumably relatively, less crowds. Less chaos. Less sun too, however.

Because no one was around, we had the gall, the well-traveled tourist cockiness, to ask for a discount the second of the two nights we stayed. It was 4pm. The park closed at 9pm. And they agreed (though I’m guessing they normally offer discounts after 4pm…).

It. Was. (Pause for drama and to catch my breath.) Awesome. Besides a few teenagers, we had the park — nine pools, six slides, soccer field, restaurant, playground, likely Cheetos dispensaries — to ourselves. The staff even checked out for the night (we didn’t see a single lifeguard). We swam in every pool. We rode every slide until our backs chafed. We didn’t even have time to see if the park actually had Cheetos dispensaries (it probably did, because in our minds, it was just that magical).

Certainly worth a visit if you’re in La Fortuna during low season.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua

You take the good with the bad. Or so we’ve experienced.

Aventura Una

We hustled to Nicaragua. We’d been told by some Australian and German backpackers in El Salvador that the political situation in Nicaragua was getting worse. Borders were getting blocked. Violence. Blockades were increasing. If you’re going to go, they said, go through the northern border. Then they flew to Panama….

We drove straight through Honduras in one day, joined by our new best buddy from Washington, Uncle Steve. Five hours of driving, five hours of border crossings. The El Salvador / Honduras was fairly straightforward. The Honduras / Nicaragua border was taxing, literally and figuratively. Took almost three hours. And no one was there. After going through the car X-ray, Nicaraguan officials spent almost an hour searching for Andrea’s blowdryer….

Aventura Dos

We camped in Somoto Canyon. Andrea had contacted a tour company there, partly to ask if it was safe to cross the border, partly because it was close to the border, and partly because it looked like a fun tour.

We visited the nearby town of Somoto first to grab cash and groceries. Most everything was closed. A national day of protest. A few drunks stumbled through the streets. A few policemen cowered in the crevices. It was eerie. Post-apocalyptical. But we were told everything would be open the next day.

At dusk, we pulled into our camping spot, a grassy lot on the river adjacent to the canyon. A gorgeous spot. The river rolled through, Ringed Kingfishers fished, and cows grazed next to our van. All seemed right in Nicaragua. We figured, as has often been the case on this trip, everything was overblown. Just a mini protest. We’d restock on Doble Queso Cheetos mañana.

Aventura Tres

Andrea had booked a hike into the canyon. Or so she thought. Our tour guides met us by the Rio Coco at the crack of 8:30am. They brought life jackets. We’d seen some locals cross the river the day we arrived. It was swift, but no more than most the rivers in Idaho. We just figured they were being overly cautious. They didn’t make us sign waivers after all.

They weren’t being cautious. After stumbling within feet of entering the river, swallowing mouthfuls of Coco and pride, I realized life jackets would be necessary. For us gringos of course. The Nicaraguan tour guides, with our kids on their backs, just skipped across the river sans jackets.

The hike wasn’t so much a hike, in the traditional sense, at least in the traditional sense to us Idahoans, as it was a rock climb up a river. We scaled cliffs. Jumped boulders. Dove and swan across sections of the river. At several points, I felt like I was horizontally rock-climbing: reaching for finger holds while my body was being pushed parallel by the river current (Andrea and the kids were in tubes at this point).

In total, six Nicaraguans helped five gringos (our family and Uncle Steve) and one dog (Steve’s dog Lilley) hike/trek/climb/swim up the river through the limestone- and jungle-walled Somoto Canyon. Our reward for the effort: a leisurely float, in our life jackets, down the Rio Coco.

After the “hike”, our guides invited us to their house for a traditional Nicaraguan lunch and the World Cup. It was awesome. The entire experience was the most adventurous, and perhaps enjoyable, activity we’ve done on this trip. We were digging Nicaragua.

Aventura Cuatro

We were instructed by our tour guides — a family of seven brothers and two sisters! — to stay in the northern part of the country. The chaos was in the south, they said. While that meant we’d have to avoid many of the sites on our to-see list, including the cities of Leon and Grenada and the entire Nicaraguan Pacific coast, we weren’t willing to date danger. Flirt? Perhaps.

The roads were clear and beautiful, like driving through a tropical version of the Highway 55 in Idaho, until Estelí, Nicaragua….

Semi-trucks created a multiple blockage in the center of town. We were able to 4×4 past the first blockage. Fairly easily. Then a local on a motorbike lead us around the second. By the third (see video below), we had to hop over a curb, skirt a precipice, and then narrowly squeeze between a power pole and a semi-truck. By the fourth, locals demolished a cement pylon on the side of a cliff to help us pass. It was nuts. Nerve-racking. We lost our minds and the pipe to our grey water tank (which broke on the pylon, spilling stinky Lingle water all over the street). The line of semi-trucks was at least ten miles long. Drivers were sleeping in hammocks beneath their trucks. Millions of dollars of lost commerce.

We hit an additional nine blockades that day. Six the following. Only that first blockade was walled by trucks. The rest by bricks and militia. Masked and armed militia — armed with bomba guns (house-made grenade guns? we were never sure, but that’s what they called them) and regular guns (pistols and rifles) — manned the blockades. Mostly young men. A few enthusiastic women.

The militia entered our van on six or seven occasions. They never threatened us. Never asked for money. Didn’t steal anything. They were searching for armas. Seems like they’re stockpiling for coup. Nicaraguans no les gusta Ortega.

Aventura Cinco

We’re in Costa Rica now. Safe. Staring at sloths.

We keep talking about Nicaragua, however. While we’re certainly bummed we did not get to see much of the country — it looked every bit as beautiful as Costa Rica — we’re mostly concerned for the people. Supplies are running out. When we visited the grocery store the day after the national protest, only about ten percent of goods were left of the shelves. ATMs were already out of money. It certainly felt like, within a matter of weeks, something drastic is going to happen. We just hope, whatever happens, conditions improve for the masses. La gente. Some of the nicest people we’ve yet met. It’s crazy how one crazy dictator can affect so many lives.

¡Viva Nicaragua!

El Salvador

El Salvador

Home of the MS-13. And pupusas (stuffed tortillas)!

Crossing the Border

El Salvador is certainly one of the, how do I say this without frightening my parents, more murder-y, err, less safe, countries we’re traveling through. And border towns are typically less safe than other towns. We were determined to van through. Rápido. Then we saw a three-mile long line of semi-trucks….

We paid a fixer, a local that works for tips and speeds you through the crossing. Other overlanders seem defiantly against using fixers, as if it insults their travel expertise. We’ve loved the service. Saves mucho tiempo. Plus you get a new buddy for an hour or two.

We would not have made it through the border that day without our fixer. He told us exactly what copies to deposit in what rooms. Where to flash our passports. He weaved us in and out of traffic. Hustled. Bribed a few truck drivers. He even at one point held up traffic on a bridge, thus allowing us to pass a dozen semis. Earned his tip in other words.

The Roads

The roads were instantaneously better upon crossing the border. Smooth. Relatively trash-free. Canopied by flamboyantly red Árbol De Fuego trees (brachychiton acerifolius). Lined by an ocean on one side and quaint tiendas on the other. Gorgeous. I suppose, given my preconceived notions of El Salvador, I was expecting worse. Less developed. Bodies hanging from telephone poles. To be robbed at least twice — we even prepped both our fake wallets. But we’ve only had one attempted robbery on this trip….

That One Time in San Felipe

Our third night in Mexico.

Andrea was, as per usual, tossing and turning. Or so I thought. Then I heard her whisper-yell: “Someone is stealing our bikes!” I busted out of the van doors, launched toward the thief with my arms up in what only can be described as the “attacking gorilla” position, and released a guttural, primordial scream that, at least in my mind, sounded like a grizzly — it could’ve been a chirp, however. Whatever it was, it worked. The thief, who had successfully picked our bike lock and removed three of the four bikes, dropped his stolen bag of goodies and ran off. It was probably the manliest thing I’ve ever done — though I may have wept silently for the remainder of that night.

Rancho Carolina

Pronounced Care-o-lee-na, as we were quickly corrected.

We stayed here our first two nights. A black sand beach around the corner from one of El Salvador’s most famous tourist and surf destinations, El Tunco. Probably a great spot for surfers. Not for swimmers. The current was intense. Fortunately, the campground had a clean, cool pool.

Cadejo Brewing

Andrea spotted a brewery around the corner from the campground. I almost didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to believe her. I couldn’t be let down by another water-flavored beer. I have too many other first-world problems to deal with.

Taking all things into consideration — food and beverage quality, atmosphere, service, etc. — it was the best meal we’ve had in Central America. Awesome tacos. Amazing burgers. And great beers. All with incredible views and service to boot. Oh, and the sweet sculpture below.

Motmot

At one point, in the middle of our bliss and as if on cue, the state bird of El Salvador, the Turquoise-browned Motmot, landed on a post below our table. Andrea, disbelieving, asked: “Is that a real bird?” I quickly quipped: “No, the brewery invested in flying mechanical birds.” It was surreal, however.

The Turquoise-browned Motmot has a turquoise brow and wings, a grassy-colored back, and an orange belly. It also has a crazy, long, turquoise and black tail that splits at the end; each end looks like a broom. See video below.

Playa De Esteron

We’ve spent the last three nights, and tonight, at Adela’s Hostel, Campground, and Restaurant. It’s an awesome locale. The beach is wide and flat and has some of the softest latte-colored sand we’ve ever encountered. If the sand were whiter — as mentioned before, I’m a beach color racist — it’d make my top ten list. And the water temperature, unlike most the Pacific coast beaches we’ve visited thus far, is perfect. For Andrea at least. It’s almost too warm for me.

And Adela is a wonderful host. Perhaps the nicest human we’ve met on this trip. She even went out of her to get medicine and electrolytes for Everett, who spent two nights ago upchucking everything in his belly.

Ya Feel Bad

Every El Salvadoran we’ve met has been innately and refreshingly friendly. It’s too bad a few gangs in a concentrated area in San Salvador have converted their beautiful country into the murder capital of the world.

I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting. I’m guessing, based on the prevalence of dying resorts near the beach, El Salvador could use the tourism. And bang for buck: you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach vacation. Just fly into San Salvador during the day, and then get out as soon as you can. The rest of the country is, somewhat literally, waiting for you with open arms.