Note: I know there’s been plenty of recapping going on around these parts lately! I’m still fairly behind on my monthly roundups, but it is kind of fun to have a little blast from the past, no? Lots of juicy details inside!
Month 45 was, quite simply, amazing. One of the overall happiest periods of my travels — and this from a month I had food poisoning! The key, I believe, was balance. Two breeze-by stops paired with two destinations I really settled into. Time with old friends mixed with a period of social solo travel mixed in with several important days of solitude. A healthy equilibrium of work and play.
And, it goes without saying, lots and lots and lots of sand. I fell crazy in love with both countries I covered this month — Nicaragua, which I spent almost a full month in after touching down at the end of Month 43, and El Salvador, where I blissed away two weeks at the beach.
San Juan del Sur
Where I’ve Been
• Fourteen days in San Juan del Sur / Nicaragua
• Four days in León / Nicaragua
• Ten days in El Cuco / El Salvador
• Four days in El Tunco / El Salvador
San Juan del Sur
• Getting back to basics. My Central America trip started at the end of Month 44, and these first six weeks were just perfect. Apart from my time in El Cuco for the festival I had nothing locked in on my calendar before I arrived, and apart from one horseback riding adventure in San Juan del Sur I paid out of pocket for everything and didn’t arrange any other media comps. It felt wonderful to be so spontaneous and obligation-free, and that freedom allowed me to find a lovely balance of work and play. I skipped out on plenty of “must-see” destinations in both countries in order to focus on quality over quantity, and it felt refreshing. Even so, I do wish I could have pretty much doubled my time in each of my three Nicaragua destinations!
• Do you ever arrive somewhere and just feel like it was made for you? That’s how San Juan del Sur felt to me. My two weeks here were the longest unbroken time I spent in one destination in Central America, and they were an undoubted highlight of the entire trip. Amazing restaurants, a busting expat community, outlets for both my healthy (read: yoga obsessed) and hedonistic (read: party girl) impulses, and gorgeous sunsets over the sand every night of the week. It’s almost impossible to pick out certain moments and list them as individual highlights when the entire time there was more or less a blur of happy. I didn’t want to leave.
• ….and yet, there was kind of one major highlight to my time in SJDS. Horseback riding at Rancho Chilamante — or more specifically, galloping down an abandoned Pacific Coast beach by horseback — was one of the most amazing natural highs of the life. And following it up with an impromptu booze cruise with my fellow cowgirls? Just out of this world.
• I don’t know if there are just like a lot of pheromones flying around in the air in San Juan del Sur or what, but I felt totally uncharacteristically boy crazy while I was there. I met up with expat surfers with man-buns I met on Tinder, I flirted with bartenders far too young for me, and I went on one memorable jogging date with a guy far too old for me. It was all crazy fun. (Except for when it wasn’t, but check the lowlights section for that. Also, since I know some have asked/been confused, when Beareded Bartender AKA Ian AKA the guy I was dating in Koh Tao realized we weren’t going to see each other for more than six months we naturally agreed to date other people in the interim. So date I did!)
• I didn’t go crazy for León — it was probably my least favorite destination of the month, which kind of speaks to what a great month it was considering I didn’t even come close to hating it and actually enjoyed all the activities I did there. I spent the majority of my four days in León cramming in last minute interneting before going fully offline, but I fit a lot into my time off, like volcano boarding, photography walks, and stumbling on a Picasso exhibit. The latter was the highlight of my short time in the city.
• While I didn’t want to leave Nicaragua when I did, it was really nice to have some anchors to plan my Central America trip around — Equilibrio was one of them. Getting out of a crammed minibus after a nine hour crossing from Nicaragua and into the arms of some of my closest friends from Brooklyn felt like coming home, even if it was to a place I’d never been. While the festival was only four days, I arrived about a week early, one of my best decisions of the trip. It was fantastic to get some quality time with my friends in before the madness started, and to get to experience El Cuco without any distractions. Surfing, stand up paddleboarding, and sunning by the pool were all distant memories by the time the festival really kicked off, so I’m so glad I had time for them beforehand.
• Watching both the sunrise and the sunset over the water from the same beach in El Cuco was surreal, and I’m grateful I was able to watch both many times over the course of the week.
• I was insanely intimidated to lead a writing workshop at the festival, but it ended up being a rush of adrenaline, inspiration, and fun. I’m going to keep an eye out for more writer’s workshops in my upcoming travels, either to participate in or to present my blogging experience at.
• It’s such a small thing but something I was so appreciative of — my friends from New York carried down a few toiletry essentials for me when they arrived, and carried back some of my packing misfires when they departed. It was such a weight off my shoulders — literally!
• Ah El Tunco, still the sweetest beach town ever despite seriously the most ridiculous list of travel mishaps. One dirt road, a stylish yoga studio, a scenic beach, an amazing food scene, and a distinctly surfer vibe. What more could a girl ask for?
• There were recycling bins next to every public garbage can in El Tunco! There was also free water refills at my hostel. Both these facts made me disproportionately happy — I hope other small beach towns in Central America follow suit.
• I met so many fantastic people this month. From the cowgirls I went riding with to the hilarious couple I met on the San Juan del Sur catamaran (let’s just say they spent several years running a hip hop label in NYC, wrote a crime novel set in the rap industry, and are traveling the world off the royalties), from fellow blogger Kate to some awesome readers who said hi, from my old Brooklyn crew in El Salvador to the amazing new friends I made at Equilibrio, this month was brimming with beautiful humans. Solo travel: very rarely, in fact, solo.
Lowlights and Lessons
• I STILL can’t surf. I had thought I’d leave Central America confident enough to rent a board and catch a wave wherever I go. But San Juan del Sur wasn’t set up for me to grab an hour of practice a day before work (all the breaks are at the neighboring beaches, which require a shuttle to get to, hence it’s an all day affair unless you have your own ride), in El Cuco I was mostly distracted by festival stuff and in El Tunco I was busy having severe food poisoning. Excuses excuses! I really truly want to finally make this goal a priority one of these days.
• Power outages. Their frequency in San Juan del Sur did not mix well with my wifi-dependence and my disdain for the dark.
• One of those previously mentioned expat dates in San Juan del Sur kind of snowballed into a little fling, one that was fun at first but left me smarting by the time I hit the road again. The upside? It made for a fairly hilarious short story I hope to publish someday. Getting stood up at a bar called the Loose Moose is pretty tragic in reality, but pretty entertaining in retrelling. The downside? I was seriously ego-bruised by a man who believes in healing crystals. (And totally no offense if you believe in healing crystals, dear reader. But fair warning, I might snort passionfruit mojito out my nose mid-date depending on how you chose to deliver this information.) But all jokes aside, it never feels good to be treated disrespectfully by another human being, especially one you’ve become romantically entangled with, however briefly.
• Leaving San Juan del Sur was a mess. I was already in a fairly short-tempered mood the morning of my shuttle (see above) when I was informed that it was oversold and I was being issued a refund. I had a very out-of-proportion meltdown and ended up cry-Skyping my dad like any mature adult would do. In the end, I had already packed all my bags and checked out of my hostel and I had limited time in my next destination of León as it was, so instead of paying $25 for a shuttle I payed $68 for a private taxi. The upside being my taxi driver was a sweetheart and we had a nice chat in Spanglish and shared a hilarious lunch at Tip Top, Nicaragua’s answer to KFC. Would I rather have spent that $43 elsewhere? Yup. But travel happens, and sometimes you have to splurge for sanity.
• I thought the worst of the street harassment was behind me when I left Granada, but it actually reached another level in León one night. I was walking home from dinner when I heard a bicycle behind me. Suddenly I was alone on the previously busy street and my gut said something wasn’t right, but there was nothing I could do but walk faster. In seconds the bike was right beside me and I felt a man reaching out to grab me. I shouted in shock and started basically sprinting back towards my hostel as he veered off, laughing. I was alone again. But not for long. I literally felt chills when I heard the spokes clicking behind me once again — he’d circled the block to have a second go at me. This time I pushed back when he grabbed at me and offset his balance, leading to us having a physical scuffle on the side of the road while I screamed in Spanish. It all happened so fast I was left bewildered with my adrenaline spiking off the charts when he biked away.
The worst part? I was truly terrified, and while in retrospect I don’t think I was in actual danger — I think he wanted to rob me or get a rise out of me as opposed to say, kill me — in the moment I felt like an animal being stalked by a predator. The second worst part? In the aftermath I noticed there were three other travelers approaching from the other side of the road with their eyes averted, looking like they were trying to pretend they hadn’t seen what just happened. They didn’t so much as call out to ask if I was okay. And the third worst part? In the scuffle I lost my Clearly Filtered Water Bottle, a key piece of gear that I mourned the rest of the trip.
• I had a really frustrating day in León in which I literally traversed the city on foot in search of supposedly healthy meals on offer at CocinArte. I was so excited when I finally found the place, only to be told that I couldn’t be served due to the tour group that had just arrived. So minor in the grand scheme of things, so soul crushing when you’ve just wasted an hour sweltering through a polluted city in search of a salad.
• My Equilibrio roommates and I ended up spending a night in a really strange little town near the airport in El Salvador so that they’d be able to easily catch their flights the next morning. Wanting to spend more time with them, I tagged along, but it ended up being a pricey evening — my share of the weirdly abandoned hotel (which was under construction and thus a total mess) was more than a night in a hostel would have been, and I had to take a private taxi onward to El Tunco when they left as there was literally no public transportation available whatsoever. All that would have been fine, but once I arrived in El Tunco and saw how amazing it was, I wished we had all just grabbed a shuttle there from El Cuco and spent our final night together there. Alas, there was simply no way to know how much better a plan that would have been ahead of time. Hindsight is twenty twenty!
• I’ve had food poisoning before, but I really outdid myself in El Tunco — and based on one of the other girls getting sick too, I’m fairly sure I contracted it at the aforementioned airport hotel. I’m talking rolling around in the fetal position caked in sweat and vomit and emitting involuntary moans of misery. I hit a real low point when I went to rinse myself off in the middle of a sleepless night and cockroaches ran over my feet, and in my delirium I truly felt that they, the cockroaches, were mocking my condition. I spent about forty-eight hours in complete agony, wracked with anxiety over how I’d survive a car ride to the hospital in San Salvador. I don’t know if staying put was the wisest choice I’ve ever made, but alone I was too overwhelmed to consider any other course of action, and luckily I eventually started to keep water back down. By the time I left four days later I was starting to feel like myself again, if a slightly exhausted and dehydrated version.
• A series of travel tragedies struck in almost comic order in my last twelve hours in El Tunco. First, my beloved only pair of flip flops broke as I was headed out for the night, leaving me barefoot until the shops opened the next morning. Second, the ATM ate my bank card, leaving me with only my backup card for the rest of the trip. Third, I completely forget all my laundry at the laundromat and left the country without it. Yes, I LEFT THE COUNTRY WITHOUT MY LAUNDRY. Clearly you are reading the words of a true travel expert right here! About a week later, thanks to the amazing coordination of no fewer than three people, I managed to be reunited with my washing. But seriously, what. an. idiot. (And yes, this incident did inspire much of my love for the Scrubba.)
• I’ve written before about my phobia of the dark, and it really hit me in unexpected ways in Central America, where the high cost of electricity means light is a luxury. The sun sets before six that time of year, and it seemed like whole cities would be plunged into blackness as the clock struck seven. Over the years I’ve gotten a better handle on this phobia and so while I wasn’t necessarily anxious, I was definitely agitated, and even bizarrely angered, by the situations where I couldn’t flip a switch and flood light my surroundings. I struggled with this mostly at Equilibrio, where the festival obviously carried on outside past 6:00pm, leaving us walking, eating, and carrying on conversations more or less with blindfolds on. The anger felt like a hangover to years spent paralytic with fear… like, hey darkness, I’m not afraid anymore, but I’m still pissed about all those years you scared me! We are so not cool! Here’s hoping this fades with time.
• Favorite snippet overheard at Equilibrio:
Girl 1, explaining a questionable decision she’d made: “But I was high on cacao at the time!”
Girl 2, skeptical: “So…. You’re blaming this on eating chocolate.”
I had a pretty surprisingly lavish month. (But I’m starting to ask myself like literally when do I not.) Removing business expenses from the equation, I spent $2,372. My biggest expenditure, as usual, was food, which clocked in at $736. Next up was accommodation which ballooned up to $555 thanks to pricey digs in San Juan del Sur and then while I was recovering in El Tunco. Entertainment rang up to $453, miscellaneous clothes, gifts, and toiletries to $191, overland transport and border fees to $190, heath and fitness to $138 and spa and salon to $109 (I had my first haircut in a year!)
Aside from business expenses, my biggest individual splurges were the $150 Equilibrio ticket, an $80 catamaran ride in San Juan del Sur, $87 at an ophthalmologists in León (note to self: Central America is not the place to run out of contacts), the surprise $68 taxi, and a $60 shuttle to El Salvador.
I spent a bit more than I earned in Month 45, but the month prior had been hugely profitable and so it all came out in the wash (actually, averaging the two I still came out on top.) Ideally it would be nice to be spending less than $2,000 a month when I’m in these lower cost countries, but working on the road means I’m more likely to splurge on private rooms in hostels, eat in nice restaurants with wifi, and to think of time as money when weighing up whether to take an expensive direct tourist shuttle or spend a whole day taking a series of cheap local buses.
Considering I took ten days almost completely offline — El Cuco had no wifi — and then spent four incapacitated by illness, it’s no surprise that I had a slow month for income. (In El Cuco I did manage to connect on my phone for an average of five to ten minutes a day to cull emails, and one afternoon walked to a resort that had wifi to answer the urgent ones on my laptop.) I was unable to work for the second half of it! The first half was mostly spent keeping my head above water in terms of getting content up on the blog in advance of going offline, tying up loose ends on the previous month’s projects, responding to comments, and answering urgent emails. I also invested a fair amount of time in a design project that frustratingly didn’t pan out. So, not a lot of time for wheeling and dealing.
Thankfully some Viator stuff, one fun freelance design project and a pittance in affiliate income and blog advertising kept me afloat.
Health and Fitness
I was incredibly fitness-focused in San Juan del Sur, going to yoga every other day and filling in runs, hikes, and gym sessions for the rest. In León I mostly got in exercise via daily walks through the city, though I missed being more physically active. Thankfully once in El Cuco I was back to jogging, fitness workshops and near-daily yoga sessions. I even managed to fit in one gentle yoga class in El Tunco while recovering from dehydration. While I drank a lot in San Juan del Sur and had my fair share of ice creams in El Salvador, overall I ate fairly healthily and felt good about what I was consuming — the only place I found it challenging to make good food choices was León.
While in El Cuco, I started a new thing in savasana – I’ve never really “got” meditation and often felt my mind was wandering in that pose when surrounded by silence. One of the teachers at Tortuga Verde, however, had a habit of playing John Lennon’s Imagine while we got into our final resting post. Now, this is going to sound a little woo woo for a girl who just made a crack about crystal healing, but something about that song had me visualizing hugging all the people closest to me, a little habit I now carry into every class. I start with my little sister, move to my mom and dad, and then just go through mentally embracing whichever of my nearest and dearest pop into my head and sending them a little love from wherever I might be in the world. I always walk out of a class smiling.
Next thing you know I might start om-ing instead of just stifling really intense giggles when I hear the person next to me reach a strange register!
Guatemala, Belize, and beyond.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.