One year after landing in Panama, last entry

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
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Trip End Jun 20, 2006


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Flag of United States  , Idaho
Monday, February 5, 2007

    It has been a year since we landed in Panama City, more than six months since our return to McCall, over a month since our blog was featured by travelpod, and now, finally, we are ready to do our final entry.  Lists, observations, and mullings on Central American/Mexican travel.  We have appreciated the comments and votes we have received, and would love to receive more, if you are reading this.  We'd also be happy to answer any specific travel questions you might have on the region. 
    The stuff we took:
Jacque:
1.  a 2200 cubic inch backpack
2.  one day sling (for taking on the bus, day trips, essentials at-hand)
3.  bottoms: one pair of utility pants, one pair of capris, and one pair of exercise-style stretchy pants, sarong (you MUST take this--blanket + towel + skirt + dress)
4.  tops: 3 tee shirts, one tank top, one long sleeve shirt, and one short-sleeve button up shirt. 
5.  other clothes: 5 prs undies, 3 bras, 5 prs socks, one bathing suit, a light cheap jacket, and a stuffable rain jacket.  And a cap I never wore.
6.  misc: pack towel, head lamp, safety pins, sewing kit, blank cds for photos (never used em--they have plenty of cheap ones at every internet cafe), sunglasses
7.  trail-running shoes and chaco flip flops (bought on clearance)
8.  wallet goods:  ATM card, credit card, drivers license, passport, copies of all (we also scanned images into our computer at home and emailed them to ourselves for backup)
9.  books:  a reading book, Lonely Planet Central America, Lonely Planet Mexico, LP Mexican Spanish, some other phrase book (a bad one), and a mini-dictionary

Andrew:
1.  a 3200 cubic inch backpack
2.  a cotton grocery sack for miscellaneous use and laundry-time (critical item and highly recommended)
3.  bottoms:  2 prs lightweight carhartt pants
4.  tops:  3 long-sleeve button up shirts (2 wrangler cotton-poly blend, one sunblocker from LL Bean).  All in plaid/check fabric.  2 wicking tee shirts, one carhartt t-shirt
5.  other clothes:  fleece jacket, packable rain jacket, swim trunks, 5 prs socks and skivvies--cotton boxers are recommended, and hard to come by in CA.  And a warm hat
6.  misc:  pack towel, a sheet we lost within 10 days (but would've liked to have kept...), compass (really really useful when you get off the bus at 1 AM in a big city and are trying to find your hostel), travel clock (with calculator), cheapass carabiner watch, high-quality folding pocket knife (learn how to open beer bottles with it--if you want info, email me and I'll tell you how), 6" fixed-blade knife for food prep, clothesline with butterfly clips, bandanna, baseball cap, headlamp, book light, lighter--for dodgy hostel stoves
7.  footwear:  trail-running shoes (by Montrail--they fell apart)
8.  wallet-gear:  other debit card, other credit card (we took from separate banks so that if one wallet was stolen, we could put stops on cards and still have access to $$), emergency travelers checks ($500 worth), drivers license, passport, and numerous fake credit cards (from credit card offers).  All important goods were kept in a leg-wallet while day-money and fakies were kept in a back-pocket throw-away wallet. 
9.  a reading book and a nice notebook
10.  tiny digital camera, charger, cell phone, cell charger (per Mom's request!  It never worked, although I was told we could buy a country-specific chip to make it do so).  A note on digital cameras:  don't take a large flashy camera and whip it out all the time.  Our camera fits into an altoids can, and takes great photos to boot.  It also conveniently fit into an empty cigarette pack. 
11.  A handline for fishing (basically a large spool of 40 lb. test line with weights and a hook)
12.  toiletries and first aid:  take along all the sunscreen you can fit--it is expensive and of dubious quality and expiration date in most of CA.  LOTS of alcohol-based hand sanitizer (don't be too anal about it, but we DID eat with our hands a lot....), a roll of TP (always useful!), contacts and solution, shampoo and leave-in spray-in conditioner (a must in cold showers on cold days!), chloroquinine (anti-malarial), cipro (antibiotic--good for both gut-busting and UTIs), loperamide (anti-pooing), ibuprofen, steri-strips (for fixing up gashes when you can't get to a doc--we never used 'em, thankfully!), alcohol swabs for cuts and cleaning kitchen utensils, chapstick, can't think of other stuff, but there was definitely more in the kit...most didn't really get used.  And you can buy all sorts of wonderful goods over the counter at pharmacies (as long as they've got it, they'll give it to you).  Oh, and we did take water purification tabs, but thankfully never had to use them.  Bottled water is cheap and readily available.  Clip on sunglasses, neck pillow (inflatable, for bus rides).  I'm 6'5" (Abt 2mtrs).  Busses are fucking uncomfortable for me, especially at 3-4 per seat. 

Things we acquired along the way:
1.  Flip-flops--Andrew forgot his in Idaho.  It is hard to try to find US 12 men's flip flops in CA--try to bring yours along if you go. 
2.  A camera card reader--our camera required special software to download pics onto CD or to this blog, so this made things easier.  We picked one up in Esteli, Nicaragua, but they're cheaper here at home. 
3.  Legend of Zelda t-shirt for Andrew.  Eighties vintage and overpriced to boot--$15 in Nicaragua is pretty outrageous for any piece of clothing!
4.  3 prs boxer shorts.  All in all uncomfortable, chafing, and unsatisfactory.  Sweaty to boot.  Made of nasty t-shirt material.  Good for bunchies.  Bring all the undies you could possibly need--they won't take up space. 
5.  two wrap-skirts, hand woven.  Nice for travel and souvenir purposes. 
6.  Two spoons and two rubbermaid plastic containers.  Great for protecting electronics on the road and food in the hostel.  Write your name on them with marker.  In two places.  We got cylindrical one, but square or rectangular would've fit in the bag better  Roughly 8"x2"x12" would've been perfect. 
7.  A strainer for stovetop coffee.  3" diameter fine mesh with handle.  And you'll never have to drink insty again. 
8.  two more bandannas.  Andrew sweats. 
9.  A GAP sleeveless shirt, at a rag reseller in Guatemala for a buck.  Ugly and functional.

Things we wished we had brought:
1.  an umbrella--a tiny one for rainstorms
2.  small waterproof duffel bags to put our backpacks in--especially in Guat, they throw them on the roof of the bus rain or shine. 
3.  needlenose pliers.  For fixing, juryrigging, and fishing purposes. 


Tips:
1.  learn a few knots (square knot, bowline, and trucker hitch, as well as two half-hitches are good ones)
2.  relax.  Another bus will show up.  So will another ferry.  Or someone will let you hitch along with them. 
3.  if you think you've stepped in something, don't look at the bottom of your shoe. 
4 . Don't look in the restaurant kitchen.  This is why street food is great--they can't hide a thing.
5.  Avoid monkeys when you are carrying food.
6.  Don't touch plumbing or wiring when showering. 
7.  Don't touch the cashew fruit.  See photos from Leon and Esteli
8.  Don't look up when something drips on you while walking down the street.
9.  Don't taste or smell said drip.
10.  Walk quickly away from any Israeli offering lentils and rice.  Or cocos.
11.  Street dogs and cats and farm animals have diseases and parasites.  Not cute.  Not at all.
12.  Learn a few words of Quiche Mayan if around Xela, or other Mayan languages if elsewhere.  You'll stun the market ladies.  And they may give you a better deal. 

Bad places (As we hit them):
1. Bocas del Toro, Panama--filthy, nasty, expensive, overcrowded, and really not worth your time. 
2.  Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.  Can anyone tell us WHY luxury cruises land here?  Pickpocket and filth central.  Good only for an ATM.  Locale of the third worst hotel of the trip. 
3.  Finca Magdalena, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua.  Overrun with naive hippies, bad food, dirty dirty dirty accomodations.  Yuck Yuck Yuck.
4.  Hotel La Clinica in Leon, Nicaragua.  Unless you really want to be part of the family with the nosy, overbearing, bossy mama. 
5.  Comayagua Honduras.  Really, nothing worth seeing.  Even the clock can't be enough to drag you here.  Avoid.  Location of the second worst hotel of our trip. 
6.  Omoa, Honduras.  High points:  stepping in a water-soaked dirty diaper.  In the middle of the street.  Bonuses:  Dirty beaches, crowds, bad and overpriced food, and Rollie, the angriest, most disgruntled hostel owner in all of Central America. 
7.  Hotel Nieves Blancas in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras.  The worst hotel of our trip, we had to eat the money and go somewhere else.  Bugs, damp bed, mold covered walls.  The "alternate" room reeked of urine.  Yummy.
8.  Quetzaltrekkers trip to Volcan Tajumulco, outside Quetzaltenango, Guat.  (Xela).  Serious environmental and safety issues, too many to mention.  While they are enthusiastic and well-intentioned, they are ill-equipped, ill-prepared, and are contributing to serious environmental degradation of the mountain. 
9.  LA

Favorite Places (from beginning of trip to end)
1.  Cafe Boulevard Balboa, Panama City, Panama.  Straight back to the 50s.  We were wary of the tap water....but drank it anyway.  I guess it really is safe in Panama.  Great sandwiches and licuados.
2.  Hotelito Nombu, Boquete Panama.  Probably not even there any more, but our Swiss and Costa-Rican hosts were the best, and we had a great time. 
3.  Cafe Ruiz, Boquete, Panama.  Best coffee of the trip (maybe outdone by San Pedro de la Laguna in Lago Atitlan, Guat, but a close call....)
4.  Miss Ediths, Cahuita,Costa Rica.  Whole jerked red snapper and garlic potatoes.  Worth every penny. 
5.  Bread and Chocolate, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.  Just what you need after a trek through the hippie heart of darkness.  Homemade truffles!  Real bread!  Blow hits away....
6.  Hostel Pangea.  San Jose, Costa Rica.  City within a city, safe and fun place to meet people.  Rooms are spartan at best, but the free internet and a free 10-min call home every night make up for anything lacking.  Also decent food, cheap drinks, and a pool. 
7.  Pollo a la Lena, fairly close to Hostel Pangea--ask directions.  Whole chickens roasted over a wood fire for pennies.
8.  Vigoron in Granada, Nicaragua.  Pork rinds with coleslaw and baked yuca.  Served in the central square.  Tasty. 
9.  Edwards Nica Buffet, Granada, Nicaragua.  Talking with Edward may be the best part.  Oh, and it isn't a buffet.  Evidently calling your restaurant, no matter what the type, a buffet is a good thing in Nicaragua. 
10.  Pizzeria Don Luca.  Stromboli to die for.  A must after tons of CA food.  Good antipasto too.
11.  Chanco con yuca, Leon, Nicaragua.  The same thing as vigoron, but with highly-seasoned pork roast instead of pork rinds.
12.  Bigfoot Hostel, Leon, Nicaragua.  Just don't touch the cashew tree in the back.  Rooms are noisy, but atmosphere is good, and drinks cheap. 
13.  Public Hospital, Esteli, Nicaragua.  English-speaking doctor, free treatment and medication.  No questions asked, except "solo tocar?"  In the 2nd-poorest country in the western hemisphere.  In the US this would've cost over $500.
14.  The D&D B&B&B near Pena Blanca, Honduras.  Read the entry on this one--too much good to mention:  great food, accomodations, fellow travelers, stories, and THE BEST BEER IN CENTRAL AMERICA.  Don't miss.
15.  Tutys in Tela, Honduras.  Donuts and licuados.  Say no more....
16.  The ruins of Copan, Honduras.  Simply amazing. 
17.  Juayua, El Salvador.  Beautiful mountain town with bitching weekend food fair. Worth the hassle of getting there. 
18.  La Casa Amarilla, Antigua Guatemala.  Best place to stay of the entire trip.  With breakfast to die for, great fellow travelers, free internet, and daily!?! maid service.  Not too expensive, though definitely more than the dive-flops.
19.  Volcan Pacaya.  Nothing can really beat poking flowing lava with a stick.  For $6 per person or thereabouts.  Would've been worth it at five times the price.
20.  Tajumulco.  Loved it and hated it.  See above.  Don't skip, but don't go with Quetzaltrekkers.  Unless you like food poisoning and such, of course.  And guides that get altitude sickness. 
21.  San Pedro de la Laguna, Guat.  Hippie Oasis.  Welcome respite from Xela dining.  Actually from any dining in Guatemala.  Excellent food, and home of the possibly best coffee of the trip.  We stayed in the most expensive room listed in our guide book, at $10 per night.  Nothing spectacular--there are PLENTY of rooming choices.  And Restaurante TinTin had passable gado gado. 
22.  Sailing.  In retrospect, we would've gone with "That Boat" instead of Las Sirenas, but a nice relaxing few days.  When in Rio Dulce, you must eat at Sun Dog.  Cookies!  The people that run Sun Dog also have "That Boat". 
23.  Tikal.  Hands down the single most awe-inspiring day of the trip.  Amazing ruins, and wildlife out the wazoo.  Parrots and toucans flying overhead.  Very interesting fellow travelers.  Think, Mindwalk (the movie). 
24.  Fishing off the private docks, Caye Caulker Belize.  Supposedly, property of the queen, not really private, but they still post PRIVATE.  Just ignore.....We only survived monetarily in Caye Caulke because Andrew fed us both on free fishies.  Also on the cheap in Caye Caulker, the $.25 cinnamon rolls at Glendas.  Also, rum is often cheaper than beer in Belize. 
25.  Mexico:  the food the food the food.  Thank god for Mexican food.  No more foul CA tortillas.  Nor more plantains.  Wretched plantains.  Andrew nearly died of ecstasy at his first taco plate, minutes inside the border. 
26.  Palenque.  Hottest, most miserable place on earth.  Gorgeous, too. 
27.  Oaxaca.  Always a fave.  Unique food, interesting political scene (to say the least!)  In a way, it felt like coming home
28.  Pachuca.  Officially our new random food capital.  Don't miss the pasties (I have no idea why else you might go there!).  Research pasties before you go for full appreciation.
29.  Las Posadas, Xilitla, Mexico.  Jungle acid trip formed in concrete.  Friendly town, too.  Don't miss the zacahuitle.
30.  DF.  Mexico City.  Don't be afraid of the big 'ol city.  Treasures abound:  great Korean, great public transport, awesome museums and cultural spots.  We're not big city people at all, but we had a damned good time. 
31.  Sayulita, Mexico.  Familiar, relaxing, no mega-resorts, good beaches, nice surf.  Heaven?
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