Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Sun, 24 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 The Thing About Guatemala http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/24/antigua-guatemala/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/24/antigua-guatemala/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35355

The thing about Guatemala is, I didn’t really love it.

There. I don’t believe in suspense — who needs the anxiety? Guatemala. I first bought a guidebook for this country over six years ago, when I was still studying in Brooklyn, though it took me up until this trip to finally make my way to its borders. Something about Guatemala called to me, and when I finally made my way there, my expectations were as high as Antigua’s altitude.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

In the end, I spent more time in Guatemala than I’ve spent in any other country in Central America — almost six weeks. I dove in a high altitude lake, roasted marshmallows over a volcano, climbed a Mayan ruin and sunned on a black sand beach. I met up with Brooklyn friends in Guatemala City (the Equilibrio creators!), I bonded with a blogging friend in Antigua (the Nomad’s Nomad author!), and I met a guy that I had a brief but heartwarmingly sweet travel romance with (but more on him later).

I stayed in great hostels, found truly fantastic restaurants — some that I’m still drooling about — and had some true adventures.

Tropicana Hostel Antigua

McDonald's AntiguaYup, this is what McDonald’s in Antigua looks like

Y Tu Piña Tambien, Antigua, Guatemala

Yet I have to admit that I’ve never felt quite so neutral about a country before. At one point, I texted my friend Kristin, the only other person I know who has publicly admitted to being underwhelmed by Guatemala, with a simple question. “Am I missing something…?” She got it. People I love love Guatemala. People I met on the road loved Guatemala. Everyone loves Guatemala.

Except, it seemed, for me.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

It did grow on me. When I first arrived in Antigua, I struggled to see the charm. I was freezing, the Zumba was lame (please laugh), I didn’t have proper footwear for cobblestones and I couldn’t help but compare the city to Granada, with the tropical Nicaraguan version coming out on top. But it was a convenient base for exploring Guatemala and something about it kept pulling me back.

When I finally left Antigua for the last time I calculated that in total I’d spent two full weeks there, and I was surprised to find I was somewhat wistful to leave.

Antigua, Guatemala

I can attribute most of that creeping fondness for the city to my friend and host and fantastic tour guide Luke, who introduced me to his fantastic group of friends and showed me parts of Antigua I might not have seen or appreciated on my own.

For example, Hobbitenango.

HobbitenangoThanks for the photo, Luke!

Hobbitenango, Antigua, Guatemala

Hobbitenango is hotel, restaurant, and bar high above the hills of Antigua. When Luke told me he was a part investor in a hobbit hole, I was 0% surprised, because that is just the way that Luke rolls. What I was surprised by, as a non-Lord of the Rings fan, was how much I enjoyed this little slice of whimsy heaven.

Hobbitenango

Hobbitenango, Antigua, Guatemala

Hobbitenango can technically be reached on foot, though it will be quite the trek (we attempted it and ended up hitching a ride for the final stretch, much to my delight). Or you can hop one of the regularly scheduled shuttles. It’s the perfect place for a lazy Sunday afternoon of cocktails and conversation, and of course, the best views in Antigua.

While live music is a regular part of life up at Hobbitenango, I was lucky enough to catch Mariachi or Muerto, the annual battle of the mariachi bands competition that Luke outlines the birth of in his book.

Mariachi or Muerto

Hobbitenango, Antigua, Guatemala

I guess I feel about Antigua in Guatemala the same way I do about Chiang Mai in Thailand. It’s a great base, there’s fantastic food, it’s a convenient place to stop and work for a while, and I adore the people there. But in the end, it just doesn’t tug at those wistful wisps of my heartstrings that make me truly fall in love (I think, to be fair, that a hot sun and an ocean view might be required for that, these days.)

I may not have fallen head over heels for Antigua, or for Guatemala for that matter, but places and people and moments like these sure did challenge me not to.

Hobbitenango

Antigua Guatemala

Have you ever felt underwhelmed by a place so many others loved?

Practical Info

Where I stayed: Mostly, I crashed with Luke and his roommate Amy, and I am eternally grateful for their hospitality. I did end up also spending a few nights at Tropicana Hostel, which has a pool and friendly staff and a great combination of a lively bar and a strict 10pm close time, meaning you can both make friends and get a good night of sleep. I also spent a night at Hacia el Sur, which has a great location and very comfortable and good value private rooms.

Where I ate: Where to begin? Pitaya Juice Bar serves up the best salads I had in Central America, Metiz Delicatessen has delicious breads and cheeses and even macarons(!), Y Tu Piña Tambien has great ambiance and breakfast cocktails, Sobremesa has fun and creative homemade ice cream flavors, and the McDonald’s is probably the most scenic outpost of the chain in the world. Seriously.

How I got there: Antigua is the base of tourism in Guatemala and nearly all private shuttles between other destinations (Lake Atitlan, Monterrico, Guatemala City, Semuc Champey, etc.) will pass through here regardless of whether or not they are listed as direct service. Chicken buses are a cheap and colorful local transport alternative, though be aware that you may have to make many transfers depending on your destination.

Bonus tip: Pack warmly! I didn’t realize how chilly so much of Guatemala would be, and I felt like I was perpetually cold when I was in the highlands. Cheap second hand stores called MegaPacas are a good place to stock up on layers if you accidentally packed for the tropics.

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In Search of Electrolytes in El Tunco http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/21/el-tunco-el-salvador/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/21/el-tunco-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35082

As I waved the last of my New York friends goodbye, I mulled my next move. Equilibrio was over.  El Cuco, for all its charms, was no longer an option after ten days without viable internet. Guatemala was calling, yet I wasn’t quite ready to leave El Salvador.

And so I made my way just a few hours North to the bustling surf town of El Tunco.

El Tunco Beach

When I say bustling, I should quantify that by El Salvadorian standards. For this tiny, oft-forgotten-on-the-itineraries-of-backpackers Central American country, El Tunco is a powerhouse of tourism foreign and domestic. But, to most, it’s still just a tiny two street town with one crescent-shaped beach, a handful of hostels, and a small but lively bar and restaurants scene.

El Tunco El Salvador

El Tunco Bar

El Tunco Street Art

Upon arrival in El Tunco I checked myself into the charming Papaya Lodge, which I’d spend much more time than I anticipated in over the next four days. Why? Because I arrived in El Tunco feeling a little funny, a minor discomfort that quickly escalated into a crippling case of food poisoning, the worst I’ve ever experienced.

By nightfall I was miserable and dreaded the idea of taking a taxi to San Salvador to check myself into a hospital, as the guesthouse staff and several others encouraged me to do when they came to my room concerned after hearing my involuntary cries of pain. Without so much as a pharmacy in town Tunco isn’t an ideal place to get sick, and when two days later my muscles started to cramp and tighten from dehydration and I’d gone forty-eight hours without keeping so much as water down I finally agreed to go to the capital in the morning. After two weeks of being surrounded by my closest friends, I felt starkly alone. But my luck was about to turn, and I woke up finally on a gentle upswing.

Papaya Lodge El Tunco

Papaya Lodge El Tunco

All that is to say that I didn’t really have the El Tunco experience I’d imagined. I didn’t rent a surfboard, didn’t go dancing, didn’t check out the local caves. Instead, once I was in recovery, I went for slow walks around town trying to soak up some Vitamin D and find electrolytes in the form of the rare bottle of Gatorade, went for a dunk in the ocean to try to cleanse away the terrible memories of the past two days, and eventually made my way to one gentle yoga class to try to stretch my aching muscles.

I wished I’d been able to squeeze in more classes. The town’s one studio, Balancé, is gorgeous and a must-visit for asana addicts.

Balancé Yoga El Tunco

Balancé Yoga El Tunco

Though I regret that I was unable to get out on a board, I love the atmosphere of surf obsessed towns, and this one was no exception.

El Tunco Beach

El Tunco El Salvador

Tunco Surfer Spa

When I was finally able to eat again, there’s nowhere I would have rather been than El Tunco. From cheap roadside pupuserías to hip international eateries, Tunco had it all. Some of my favorites were Take a Wok, which had fresh and healthy stir fries, Soya, which had nice salads and other organic goodies, and the homemade popsicles sold out of several of the convenience stores around town.

El Tunco Restaurants

Take A Wok El Tunco

Soya El Tunco

Soya El Tunco

Despite my very bad fortune when it came to matters of the gut in El Tunco, it still managed to win me over where it mattered — my heart. What a sweet, colorful little piece of sandy paradise! For such a small place, there were so many surprises to uncover.

El Tunco Street Art

El Tunco Street Art

El Tunco Street Art

El Tunco Beach

I loved that El Cuco and El Tunco complemented each other so perfectly. While similar, El Cuco was a peaceful and remote retreat, and El Tunco was a fun and lively town (for more on the nightlife and whatnot that I didn’t experience, check out Adventurous Kate’s El Tunco post).

Best of all, they both make perfect stopovers between Nicaragua and Guatemala. I was surprised to find how many travelers in Central America gunned directly from León, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala via a popular seventeen hour shuttle service. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s about twelve hours past my bus comfort zone. Why not pop by one of these beautiful beaches for a few days, and get to know a little bit of El Salvador along the way?

I don’t think you’ll regret it. My two weeks beach hopping in El Salvador were an unexpected highlight of my time in Central America. Just perhaps plan ahead and BYOE — Bring Your Own Electrolytes, just in case.

El Tunco El Salvador

El Tunco El Salvador

Next stop, Guatemala!

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Equilibrio Festival • El Salvador: Under the Stars http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/19/equilibrio-el-salvador-festival-part-ii/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/19/equilibrio-el-salvador-festival-part-ii/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35351

Equilibrio

Equilibrio — that beautiful, intimate and intense festival I attended in El Salvador this year — was all about balance. Its logo, shown above, represented this balance with two trapezoidal inverted shapes; one black, one white. My previous post focused on what I’d consider the pieces of the festival that fit into that light shape — enriching moments made up of knowledge and movement workshops, spiritual ceremonies, and an emphasis on learning and sharing.

This post focuses on what I felt nestled nicely into that dark shape — hedonistic hours filled with ecstatic dance parties, silly fun swim sessions, hand crafted cocktails served in coconuts, and an emphasis on entertainment, pure and simple. It’s all about that equilibrium, right?

Playing in the Surf at El Cuco

Though all four days of Equilibrio — especially the first two — were tightly scheduled with a long list of activity choices, there always seemed to be a spare ten minutes to make a dash for the sea. And with such an inviting ocean just literal steps away from our rooms or tents or hammocks, how could we not?

Some would surf, some would sit in the sand and gossip, others would go for a refreshing swim or take a dunk to cool down after an intense yoga session.

Beach time in El Cuco

Pool Party in El Salvador

Beach time in El Cuco

Pool Party in El Salvador

Watermelon in El Salvador

Pool Party in El Salvador

Alex in Wanderland in El Salvador

Nights were not neglected at Equilibrio. On Night One, the solemn opening ceremony was followed by a local marching band leading a joyful dance party from the street down to the beach, and later, a Salvadorian circus performed on the sand for a mix of locals and festival go-ers. On Night Two, there was a variety show in which the amount of talent contained in one little festival amazed me all over again.

On Night Three, we spiffed up for a black and white party catered by a local fish shack and highlighted by a beach bonfire. And on our final evening together, we kept the fire theme going with a dramatic beach burn and one final cacao ceremony — yes, there had been several. On all the nights, there was music, and dancing, and friendship.

Equilibrio Nightlife

The small size of the festival — just one hundred and twenty people — meant that the partying was far from overwhelming. For once, I left a festival feeling energized instead of exhausted. I had no interest in sleeping the days away for this one — so in that spirit of balance, I had two big late nights of indulgence and two that ended with relatively reasonable bed times.

And those two big late nights were worth ever moment of lost sleep — different DJs took turns beneath the palms, fire twirlers elicited oohs and aahs by the pool, handmade cocktails were served up in the Cosmix bar, and there were plenty of hilarious dance floor antics abound. Sand below, stars above, drinks from a thatch roof bar — that’s my kind of dance party bliss.

Equilibrio Nightlife

Equilibrio Nightlife

Equilibrio Nightlife

Equilibrio Nightlife

Equilibrio Nightlife

While I’d be hard pressed to narrow down just one favorite moment of Equilibrio, I can say with full confidence that the aforementioned black and white party cleared the top ten. As we posed in our finest beach bum attire, I felt like we were all spiffed up for a hippie prom.

It was a night I won’t easily forget.

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio_Dark_016

Equilibrio Festival El Salvador

Equilibrio Festival El Salvador

The last night was, in contrast, a quiet and reflective one. The light from the fire that had been burning since our opening ceremony was carried out to the beach, and after a meditative closing one (we really liked our ceremonies at Equilibrio), we watched in silence as the sculpture we’d been living amongst for four days burned down the the sand.

Equilibrio Future Clear

Central America Festivals

Equilibrio Festival El Salvador

Central America Festivals

When I got back from Burning Man, I wrote a post called What the %$#* is Burning Man?, a post that tried to answer that frequent and difficult question. Yet I’d struggle to even start trying to answer the same question for Equilibrio, so layered and unique and refreshing was my experience there. Frankly, it wasn’t like anything I’ve ever been to, and I think that’s because nothing like it exists.

Equilibrio was the inaugural international festival put together by Future Clear, and there were some first time fumbles — sometimes organization was a tad unclear and the schedule started unraveling a bit towards the end of the event. But those were minor speedbumps to an overwhelmingly successful first time festival — I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Equilibrio Future Clear

You could say that my experience at Equilibrio was so impactful for me because it was created by some of my dearest friends. And that is true — I felt remarkable pride and awe surging through me, knowing that these people who have been important pieces of my life for more than eight years, who in many ways I grew up with, had built this unbelievable thing. However, I think the special thing is that by the end of the festival, anyone there could have said the same — because we were all connected, and we all created it, together.

There was no quietly observing at this festival — everyone was a participant and a contributor and an artist, in some way. And months later I am still grateful for the people that came into my life as a result of Equilibrio — weird, wonderful, special and talented souls who I know I’ll collaborate with and travel with and laugh with for a long time to come.

It was surreal to watch it come together, and I was honored to be a part of it.

Equilibrio Future Clear

Thank you again to the Future Clear crew for a fabulous event!
So what do you think? Will I see you there next year?

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Photo of the Week 205: New York http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/18/photo-of-the-week-205-new-york/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/18/photo-of-the-week-205-new-york/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35074

Greetings from Upstate New York! I’ve had a serious scenery change in the past week — I went from balmy Bermuda (have you been following my Instagram takeover?) to crisp spring Upstate New York. While normally I give myself a little more than eighteen hours turnaround between trips, this one was definitely worth the rush. From kayaking on Keuka Lake to taking a private glass blowing class in Corning, my first trip to the Finger Lakes could not have been more idyllic — and my big sis Margaret came too! How did it take me so long to get here?!

Over the weekend we retreated to Rochester and enjoyed some downtime with one minor exception — my first 10K! It felt so good to cross the finish line, though I’m definitely still walking a little funny as a result of my lack of training. Next week I’ll be checking in with more from my favorite state as I explore Ithaca for the first time and finally return to Albany for an all too brief bit of downtime before hitting the road once again.

Hope you all had a beautiful weekend… and Happy Monday!

Photo A

Keuka Wine TrailVineyard hopping on the Keuka Lake Wine Trail

Photo B

Kayaking on Keuka LakeKayaking on Keuka Lake

Photo C

Watkins Glen and The Rockwell MuseumBeauty nature and man made at Watkins Glen, left, and the Rockwell Museum, right

Photo D

Hand + Foot CorningA memorable meal at Hand + Foot in Corning

Photo E

Corning Museum of GlassExploring the Corning Museum of Glass

Photo F

Corning Museum of Glass… and learning the art of the trade in one of their workshops!

Which photo is your favorite?

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Equilibrio Festival • El Salvador: Under The Sun http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/17/future-clear-equilibrio-festival-part-i/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/17/future-clear-equilibrio-festival-part-i/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35068

Equilibrio

Festivals, it seems, have become somewhat of a passion of mine. I’ve made my way now to several around the world – Burning Man in the Nevada desert, Tomorrowland in a Belgian neverland, Sunjam on the shores of Honduras, Mardi Gras in the heart of New Orleans, and Batabano in the streets of Grand Cayman, to name a few.

But never have I felt so much a part of something as I did at Equilibrio, an intimate hundred-and-twenty person festival that came to life this year on the coast of El Salvador.

Equilibrio Festival

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio El Salvador

Equilibrio Festival

Lasting four days in late February, Equilibrio was a blend of meaningful ceremonies, playful parties, yoga and movement classes, and workshops in topics ranging from writing to organic soap making — all set against the backdrop of beautiful El Cuco.

Future Clear, the organizers of Equilibrio and three of my close friends from Brooklyn, created an artist’s playground across two beautiful spaces on El Cuco beach. The first was La Tortuga Verde, the second, a short stroll down the sand away, was Rio Mar, and hand drawn maps directed festival-goers between them. Attendees were organized by locally handmade bracelets embroidered with a number and color based on your element group — fire, earth, air, or water. I was thrilled, of course, to find that I was in the water element.

The numbers on our wristbands corresponded to a tab. While three meals per day, a camping space and all activities were included in the insanely reasonably $150 event price tag, extras like cocktails, handmade cacao balls, restaurant meals, massages, and more were able to be added to a tab, allowing for a blissfully cash-free festival.

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio Festival

Future Clear Productions

As the name of the festival suggests, at its core, Equilibrio is about finding balance. Balance between light and dark, between sunset yoga and sunrise dance sessions, between the community and the individual, between spirituality and silliness, between learning and letting go.

Equilibrio El Salvador

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio El Salvador

“So this sounds like… a hippie festival,” was the reaction I got several times as I tried to explain the experience afterwards to fellow travelers I met throughout Central America. And it was. If I’d taken a (locally sourced, organic and hand infused) shot for every time I heard the word permaculture or someone alluded to manifesting their own reality, I would have passed out mid afternoon on day one and not come to until long after the hammocks had been hauled up and the scent of patchouli and lavender was nothing but a distant memory. That much is true. But it was so, so much more.

In a future post, I’ll focus on the dark and silly side of Equilibrio – but this post is all about the learning and the light.

Equilibrio El Salvador

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio El Salvador

Equilibrio El Salvador

Workshops

Workshops led by festival participants were the beating heart of Equilibrio. Topics ranged from figure drawing taught by a New York based book designer to natural beet dying taught by a Guatemala City expat industrial designer. Other classes that I starred in my program included natural soap making, air gardening, environmental policy, permaculture, and more, more, more.

Each morning began with a struggle over which of the many simultaneous offerings to attend. I’m a natural student at heart and loved this aspect of Equilibrio.

Equilibrio Workshops

Equilibrio Workshops

Equilibrio Workshops

Equilibrio El Salvador

Equilibrio Workshops

Equilibrio Workshops

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio Workshops

I personally led a workshop on travel writing, which filled me with nerves and excitement ahead of time but ended up one of the most inspiring experiences of my Central America travels. I couldn’t believe how many bodies wiggled onto those benches or into those hammocks, but I shouldn’t have been surprised — this was a group with some serious stories to tell.

The hours spent in this workshop triggered new personal writing projects that I never thought I’d embark on — that previously non-existent type of writing that neither (a) will appear on this blog nor (b) someone is paying me for. Creative, non-blog writing. Writing for joy. Writing for therapy. I’d almost forgotten it existed. Equilibrio helped me remember.

Equilibrio Writing Workshop

Movement

Each day at Equilibrio started with sunrise yoga and meditation classes — though that was just the beginning. Throughout the day there were workshops I attended like Burn Your Buns (where coconuts acted as free-weights!), Partner Yoga, and Acro Yoga as well as workshops I couldn’t quite fit in, like Breakdancing, Twerking, and Slack Lining. Regular yoga practice was a huge part of my Central America travels, and I soaked up as many of the different teaching styles and class types as I could.

In addition, there were workshops on healing arts such as reflexology, acupuncture, and massage, in which participants were able to experience those treatments and in some cases learn to give them. With so many talented masseuses and healers at the festival, a massage tent was set up where practitioners could set their own prices and weary festival goers could schedule a relaxing ocean-front hour.

Equilibrio Workshops

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio El Salvador

Ceremonies

Equilibrio also had a strong spiritual component, with ceremonies all over the place — opening ceremonies, cacao ceremonies, moon ceremonies, closing ceremonies, ceremony ceremonies, etc. I admit that this aspect was somewhat outside my comfort zone, though I enjoyed challenging myself to try to connect with the moment during these rituals. I have a predisposition to eye-rolling, and I think it’s good for me to give in and just get swept away sometimes.

Most of the ceremonies were conducted by a group called The Healing Caravan who built their own dedicated space in the woods. Upon reflection, I’m sad to say that I only visited it once, during the opening ceremony — however, with so much to see and do, I accept that as with any festival there was no way I could have seen it all.

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio Ceremonies

Equilibrio Festival

Future Clear Productions

Equilibrio El Salvador

Equilibrio Festival

Equilibrio El Salvador

This is just one aspect of the magic that was Equilibrio. Stay tuned for Part II!

Are you fest obsessed? Would you consider checking out an alternative to the standard music festival?

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Photo of the Week 204: Island Style http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/14/photo-of-the-week-204-cayman-and-bermuda/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/14/photo-of-the-week-204-cayman-and-bermuda/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35073

Hello old friends! Is it just me or it does it feel like it’s been ages? Due to some behind-the-scenes technical difficulties (apologies to those who have tried to check in and found the site down!) I’m a little behind on posting this week. But we’re all up and running now, and I think you’ll agree it was worth the wait…

…because I could not have ended my current international wanderings on a better note. The last few weeks have been all about island hopping. First, Roatán, followed by a return to Grand Cayman, where I celebrated Batabano in style on the streets! Unfortunately, it was an incredibly rainy week, but aside from Batabano the main objective of the trip was catching up with Heather, and we can do that in any kind of weather (though, note to whoever is in charge of these kind of things, we really do prefer sun.)

Finally, I made my way north to Bermuda. I gave a little cheer when I landed for having made it to my thirtieth foreign country, and basically didn’t stop smiling until it was time to return to the airport. I can’t really stop gushing to everyone about how unexpectedly obsessed I am with this little island and my home base there at The Hamilton Princess & Beach Club. I’m beyond excited to share more soon, and I think these photos should give you a little hint why.

It’s hard to believe that next week I’ll be reporting in from New York! Layover in Miami en route to Bermuda aside, it’s been five months since I touched down on US soil. I’m looking forward to being home and all that lies ahead, but at the moment I couldn’t be more grateful for such a beautiful and inspiring end to my latest, greatest adventure.

Photo A

Cayman BatabanoBatabano, the Cayman version of Carnival! So much energy.

Photo B

Cayman RainA rainy and reflective time in Cayman.

Photo C

Fairmont Hamilton Princess BermudaThe unbelievable Fairmont Hamilton in Bermuda, a work of art.

Photo D

Warwick Long Bay BermudaBermuda beach hopping with an acrobatic assistant.

Photo E

Diving in BermudaDiving the Bermuda Triangle — by far the best photo I’ve ever captured of a shy parrotfish.

Photo F

1609 at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess BermudaI was so excited when a chef walked by at the perfect moment in front of 1609, already Bermuda’s most scenic restaurant.

Photo G

Fairmont Hamilton Princess BermudaAbsolutely in love! With the Hamilton Princess, with Bermuda, and with the sun for making these images beautiful.

Which photo is your favorite?

.

Pssst! Want to see more photos from Bermuda? I’ll be taking over the Hamilton Princess’s Instagram for the next six days! Would love to see y’all over there…

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Beachfront Bliss: Kicking Back in El Cuco http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/08/el-cuco-el-salvador/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/08/el-cuco-el-salvador/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35067

El Salvador is kind of the pre-glass slipper Cinderella of Central America. Most backpackers bypass it entirely, and those that do pause to get their passports stamped tend to just stay for a few days, most often to surf along the Costa del Bálsamo or to take in the colonial Ruta de las Flores. I have to admit that had you asked me around this time last year, I wouldn’t have been able to sum up much enthusiasm to visit El Salvador, apart from its role in achieving my goal of eventually visiting every country in Latin America.

And then came Equilibrio.

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

Equilibrio is the brainchild of some of my closest and most creative friends from New York; a four day festival that came to life on the beaches of El Salvador in late February. As soon as my friend Sam told me to mark my calendar, I did so dutifully, and thus Equilibrio was one of the main anchors that set my current Central America trip in motion. But you’ll hear more — much more — about Equilibrio later.

First, I want to tell you about the beach town of El Cuco.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

Though Equilibrio itself lasted four days, I decided to arrive a week early to soak up as much time with my New York crew as possible. I was worried about spending a full ten days on a remote beach with limited internet, but the day I arrived, after a long border crossing from Nicaragua, I knew immediately that I had made the right call. Some of my most cherished memories are from those first lazy days, before the festival goers arrived and the energy and chaos levels raised a billion notches.

When I first arrived, Equilibrio seemed like a distant future — it was just us, the sand, and the surf.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

Alex in Wanderland regular Zoe arrived not long after me, and with our offers to help met with smiling shrugs that everything was under control, we had plenty of time to explore all that El Cuco has to offer.

As far as travelers are concerned, El Cuco is the backpacker beach resort of La Tortuga Verde, host of the Equilibrio festival. With a shady pool, a waterfront restaurant, a vegetarian cafe, free yoga classes, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Latin America and dorms starting at $10 a night, it truly is an oasis for those looking for a break from the Gringo Trail.

The beach was truly unlike any other I’ve ever spent time on — impossibly long and flat, with hard sand perfect for long walks or barefoot jogs, lapped by a gentle surf perfect for beginners with a board, and backed by a thick lush fringe of palms. The best part? At a certain time of the year, you can watch both the sunrise and the sunset from El Cuco, something I wouldn’t have imagined possible until I saw both with my own eyes.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

Tortuga Verde truly is a beach resort at backpacker prices — and also a popular weekend getaway for beach-bound Salvadorians. We loved the mix of domestic and foreign travelers.

El Cuco, El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

Zoe and I split one of the largest rooms with our friends Liz and Brianna, each of us paying less than $20 a night for a massive suite with four beds, two hammocks, and about a three minute commute to the shoreline.

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

Considering we were pretty much stranded at Tortuga Verde — town was a twenty minute walk away, with not much on tap — we were impressed that the food prices were quite reasonable. The onsite local restaurant was great, although what really blew me away was the Cosmic Cocina, an adorable onsite vegetarian café.

Breakfast at La Tortuga Verde

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

Our days in El Cuco were busy — lounging by the pool, sipping fresh fruit licuados, lounging by the beach, chatting with friends, lounging in hammocks. It was hard to fit it all in! But one day, I did feel duty call, and Zoe and I made the thirty minute trek down the beach to Azul Surf Club, known for its razor fast internet (while technically Tortuga has internet, I was lucky if I was able to post an Instagram, and was never able to connect on my laptop.)

The walk was stunning, as was the change of scenery to a totally new pool.

Boats along El Cuco Beach El Salvador

Azul Surf Club El Salvador

Boats along El Cuco Beach El Salvador

Azul Surf Club El Salvador

Our favorite excursion, however, was a slightly more active one. Along with surfboards, Tortuga rents Stand Up Paddleboards — my favorite! A short walk down the beach from the resort we found the mouth of a calm river, and marveled at the stunning scenery as we slowly paddled by. Aside from a few fisherman in wooden canoes, we had it to ourselves.

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

After that, we really felt we’d earned our afternoon pool lounging session. Are you starting to sense a theme?

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador Pool

El Salvador Travel Blog

But we had more than our evening runs to shake off our lethargy. There was also yoga. Tortuga Verde offers one to two yoga classes per day in an open-air, ocean-facing sala. Classes are taught by visiting instructors and are completely, 100% free. How amazing is that?

Yoga at La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

As the week wore on, more friends began filtering in from up North, bringing with them tales of snowstorms and flight delays, hazards that seemed a million miles away from our bubble of bliss.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

Since I left El Salvador, I haven’t stopped raving about El Cuco or Tortuga Verde. I’ve sang its praises and scribbled its name in the notebooks of dozens of travelers I’ve met along the way — and I’m so happy to finally now be sharing it with you.

Looking for a hit of raw tranquility in your Central America travels? Look no further.

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

Stay tuned for more on Equilibrio! Does El Cuco seem like your kind of beach?

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Travel Porn: The Nomad’s Nomad http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/07/the-nomads-nomad-book-review/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/07/the-nomads-nomad-book-review/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35066

The Nomad's Nomad I was not so much “running away” from anything as I was “running towards” everything.

It’s been far too long since I added a virtual title to the book shelves of my Travel Porn book review series. Truth be told, up until recently, it had been a while since I read something in the wanderlust genre that really inspired me. I was starting to feel that old literary longing, a desire to read words so stirring that they inspire flight searches. But I was coming up empty. Then, in March, I arrived in Guatemala and crashed with my friend Luke Armstrong, an accomplished musician, traveler, and writer. When I mentioned I was in the market for a good read on my way up to Lake Atitlán, he presented a beautiful gift — his own recently self-published title, The Nomad’s Nomad: Intrepid Stories From The Road.

And I’m so glad he did.

A Look Inside

The Nomad’s Nomad is a collection of thirty-nine short stories of hope and hilarity.

What makes the Nomad’s Nomad special is that he’s not just a fantastic writer but a truly spectacular traveler. If I did not know the author personally, I might raise an eyebrow at the veracity of some of his tales, from trying to meet a Kenyan dictator at a soccer match, to financing a trip to the United Kingdom by selling loose cigarettes on the streets of London, to getting interviewed by Christiane Amanpour for his work running a malnourished children’s center in Guatemala, to dropping everything to hike a volcano in search of a rare butterfly with a Scottish entomology hobbyist, to joining fisherman for a day of work in a remote bay of Colombia. But having been lucky to tag along on a few of his day to day adventures myself, I can assure you that each one of them rings a thousand percent true (plus, I totally watched the Amanpour interview on YouTube.)

And, in a beautiful little bonus chapter, The Nomad’s Nomad introduced me to the poem Ithaka, by Constantine Cavafly, a new favorite I’ve now returned to countless times in the past months.

What I Liked

I loved this book. The short story format is one of my favorites, especially on the road! I love being able to absorb a bite-size story on the beach, in a bus, or sitting on my backpack in line somewhere.

While the book hops across the globe along with the author, common threads tie the geographically-spread stories together. There is the reckless search for adventure, the constant love for a close-knit family, and a struggle every nomad can relate to, the constant questioning of when to go home, and where this place called home exists. As he muses, “At some point, we all long for home. Home not as a place, but as a state of affairs where we can find familiar comforts and the intersecting lives of those we love.”

Antigua, GuatemalaLuke’s love for Guatemala is tantamount to my own for a little place called Thailand — “a place that both felt like home and somewhere foreign.” Many of the stories circle around to Antigua, and anyone who has spent time as an expat will relate to his complex relationship with that city.

Yet as deep as the philosophizing goes, so too does the humor. I often laughed out loud, hard, and almost wore through the pages as I underlined phrases I wished I had written so vigorously.

It was a joy reading this book, from reminiscing about places I’ve been, to revisiting existential questions I’ve asked myself, to even reacquainting myself with some of the characters I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person.

What I Didn’t Like

When Luke and I chatted about the book upon my return to his couch in Antigua, I confessed that I had but one criticism. I don’t think the cover — the one thing I am not, in fact, meant to judge a book by — reflects the sophistication of the stories within. But once you crack the spine, it’s really golden.

Who This Book Is For

Backpackers, adventurers, armchair travelers, philosophers, Guatemala fans, expats, and aspiring writers looking for inspiration.

Now It’s Your Turn

Today I’m giving away a brand new copy of The Nomad’s Nomad: Intrepid Stories From The Road to one of you! Think of it as a virtual free bookshelf at your favorite hostel. Readers from all countries are welcome to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Travel Porn is a feature in which I review books from my beloved travel literature genre. So far I’ve reviewed titles like Bangkok Noir, a short story collection that brings the noir genre to the steamy streets of Thailand, Hotel Honolulu, a fictional account of a Waikiki hotel manager’s quirky life in a paradise lost, Walking the Amazon, the true story of a man who spent 860 walking the entire length of the Amazon, Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a tale of the “discovery” of the world’s most famous lost city — and more! This genre, this kind of book — it’s travel porn, plain and simple. Find all reviews here.

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Let’s Go! Volcano Boarding in León http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/05/volcano-boarding-in-nicaragua/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/05/volcano-boarding-in-nicaragua/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35065

Long before I ever booked a flight to Nicaragua, there was one activity I knew I’d be signing up for: volcano boarding. Like partying at Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur, volcano boarding in León is just one of those things backpackers go, do, and get the t-shirt for — literally.

Volcano Boarding with Bigfoot Hostel

Though you could book the excursion anywhere around town, I went with the original — Bigfoot Hostel. The hostel’s original Australian owner came to León in 2004 and immediately became obsessed with descending Cerro Negro, a nearby volcano. After experimenting with picnic tables, mattresses and spare doors, he landed on a sort of makeshift toboggan made of metal and reinforced plywood. Today, backpackers use those same inventions to hit speeds of up to 95km/hr downhill.

But first, you’ve got to get to the top. And before that, you’ve got to get to the base. Our day started with a long, rattling ride through the León countryside in the back of an open-air truck.

Volcano Boarding in Leon

Arriving at the base of the volcano, it suddenly dawned on me that we would have to ascend it. Though I was up for a little exercise, when the option was offered to pay a bit more to have our boards carried to the top, I quickly handed over a wad of cordobas.

I was up for a little exercise, I said.

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding with Bigfoot Hostel

It was an incredibly hot day and the black volcanic rock we were crunching on radiated heat back up at us. Yet the hike itself was under an hour and our sweet Australian guide made sure we had frequent breaks to catch our breath and fuel up on water.

Volcano Boarding in Leon

Volcano Boarding with Bigfoot Hostel

Volcano Boarding in Leon

When we reached the top, there was already another group gearing up, and we watched transfixed as they slid down a slope so steep they disappeared within seconds.

Volcano Boarding in Leon

Volcano Boarding in Leon

And then it was our turn to don our bright orange jumpsuits, and for me to test the patience of my group-mates by making as many Orange Is the New Black references as humanely possible within a thirty minute period.

Volcano Boarding in Leon

Volcano Boarding with Bigfoot HostelPhoto courtesy of Big Foot

Volcano Boarding in NicaraguaPhoto courtesy of Big Foot

And then it was time to hop on board. Despite my enthusiasm for the tour overall, I was actually kind of anxious of the, um, volcano boarding bit. Ever since a psychologically-scarring motorbike crash in Thailand, I’ve always been a little anxious of reaching out-of-control downhill speeds. I always knew I’d take it slow, and I was okay with that.

Volcano Boarding in NicaraguaPhoto courtesy of Big Foot

I did, however, have another problem. I’d decided on taking my dSLR up the volcano, and that meant it had to come down. Wearing my day pack in front was the only option, and it both obstructed my view and made me look absolutely ridiculous in pictures.

Ah, the things I’ll do for photography! In the end I’m happy I had it as I love some of the photos I took, though if you really want to excel at the boarding I’d leave all but the essentials behind.

Volcano Boarding with Bigfoot HostelPhoto courtesy of Big Foot

Volcano Boarding in NicaraguaPhoto courtesy of Big Foot

At $31 for the tour plus $5 for park entrance plus $5 to have your board carried to the top (optional… technically), it’s not the cheapest day out in Nicaragua. But with cold beer and warm cookies on the way back, a round of mojitos awaiting at the Bigfoot Bar upon return, and prizes for the fastest girl and guy, there are plenty of perks to the day. The guide also takes great photos which are later posted to Facebook, though to nitpick I wish they were also uploaded somewhere like Flickr so we could have full-sized versions as well (Facebook compresses images significantly, hence the pixelation in the Bigfoot photos in this post.)

I couldn’t help but compare the experience to sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru, which of the two I found to be infinitely more entertaining. That said, I don’t regret spending my big day out in León this way in the slightest. Our very young, perma-cheery guide had me constantly smiling (seriously, when I left I told her she better get herself a hospitality degree or she was missing her calling!), I had a uniquely Nicaraguan experience, and the volcano was gorgeous.

And did I mention the warm cookies and the cold mojitos afterward?

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

After carefully ridding my body of every grain of volcanic black sand — believe me, no easy task — my month in Nicaragua was up. Though I was gutted to leave, I knew I’d be back. And I couldn’t look over my shoulder for too long — new adventures in El Salvador awaited.

Would you go volcano boarding?

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Photo of the Week 203: Roatán http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/04/photo-of-the-week-203-roatan/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/05/04/photo-of-the-week-203-roatan/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35070

I can’t believe I’m writing this sentence, but… this is my final Photo of the Week from Central America… at least for now! Fifteen weeks have gone by since I first touched down in Nicaragua, and this final one had me waving goodbye to the region from the Honduran island of Roatán. I first vacationed in Roatán five years ago when I spent a summer living and working in the Cayman Islands, and so it’s only appropriate that I relive the whole shebang at one — I just arrived back on Grand Cayman. What a blast from the past!

This trip to Roatán was quite different from the last. Five years ago, my ex-boyfriend and I were budgeting every lempira, couchsurfed with a local dive instructor and were fell in love with the one (dirt) road town of West End. Five years later, and that dirt road’s been paved, I had fellow blogger and Roatán expert Rika as my tour guide, and I was able to splurge on many a lovely meal. As usual, can’t wait to share more.

This week on the blog I have one last post from Nicaragua coming up before we dive into El Salvador, as well as a travel book review (it’s been a while!). I can’t wait to hear what you guys think. But for now, onto Photo of the Week…

Photo A

Barefoot Cay RoatanRelaxing at Barefoot Cay

Photo B

Beach House RoatanBright and cheery at the Beach House

Photo C

Beach House RoatanNice and nautical

Photo D

Diving in RoatanMaking new underwater friends

Photo E

Diving in RoatanSeahorses and swim-throughs

Which photo is your favorite?

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