After a dozen roadtrips back and forth across the USA and throughout Canada, I decided to take a visit down to Central America. Since Belize and Costa Rica both seemed friendly and semi- English speaking, I decided to fly into Belize City and out of San Jose a month later. But plans changed once I got there, and after four months visiting every country except El Salvador, I was running low on cash and had to get back to work.
Belize was awesome! I only spent a week there, and all of it was on the two tropical islands, but I hooked up with two women (twins, my age; Lisa and Jane) and we had so much fun. They were based out of Guatemala City, and were headed back there. Since this trip was mostly an educational extravaganza, and since Antigua Guatemala is known over the world as an ideal place to learn Spanish via the "total immersion" method, the timing was perfect. I accepted their invitation to travel with them to Guatemala City, then enrolled myself in Spanish School for a couple of weeks. I did lots of fun stuff in Guatemala.
A few weeks later, I decided to fly down to Costa Rica with one of my classmates from Spanish school. I had been living with a local family for two weeks, speaking nothing but Spanish, and was ready to go try to survive away from the school. Gretchen and I made the flight to San Jose without much problem, and quickly left the city and headed to the southeast coastal village of Cahuita near Panama. We got a room right on the water in a small but comfortable place, and within an hour Anne came by and asked if she could walk into town with us for dinner. Anne turned out to be one of those very special people that have become a big part of my life. One day Anne and I hired a boat and went out looking for manatees! About a week later, Gretchen, Anne myself, and about 4 others headed down into Panama.
In Costa Rica, spent about eight days out in the remote Corcovado National Park with a very sweet woman named Heike (from Germany). We had to backpack in, about a seven hour walk in along the coast, carrying all supplies. I did some volunteer work at the Ranger Station, helping out with some radiotelemetry of Tapirs! If you've never seen one, tapirs look like a cross between a horse and a pig! Eventually Heike and I headed to north to Fortuna, and camped at the base of the Volcan Arenal, an active volcano. Every forty five minutes or so, the ground would shake, lava would shoot up into the air, and red molten rock would ooze down the slope. In the morning our tents were covered in ash. We stopped by a local hotspring for a bath and hot soak that morning. A couple days later, on Christmas Day, we went caving. There were waterfalls throughout the cave system, so we had a blast but were soaked to the bone. Afterwards, Heike headed north to Nicaragua, and I headed west to Montezuma for the Nuevo Ano (New Years weekend festivities). A week or so later, it was northbound to Nicaragua.
San Juan Viejo in Nicaragua is a very peaceful and picturesque fishing village. After three very mellow days there, I headed for the big lake, Lago de Nicaragua (and the home of freshwater sharks!). I stayed out on the Islands (two volcanos) on the lake for a week, and had quite a surprise one night. After a couple beers while watching the sunset and updating my journal, I went back to my room to take a shower before dinner. I heard a familiar laugh from the room next to mine. It was Heike again! How cool! We were both there for the same reasons; we wanted to climb the volcanoes! So at 4 the next morning, we started the long journey. After climbing through banana groves, coffee plantations, cocoa farms, and several more plantations at different levels, we arrived at the rim of the volcano. We made our way down into the caldera, and had lunch by the water. We were both hurting pups later that evening back at the hotel.
After a few more days of visiting the old villages in Nicaragua, I headed north to Managua. This place is said to be one of the most unsafe places in Latin America, but I enjoyed it. From here I headed to Honduras, and several glorious weeks of tropical paradise. The Bay Islands of Honduras were the perfect end to an excellent four month journey through Central America.
One year later, I was back in Latin America! However, instead of Central America, this time it was South America. A lot of my time was spent doing scientific research for Smithsonian Institute in the wild and remote Amazonian Rainforest. But I also had some great adventures in Ecuador, Colombia, the Galapagos Islands, Peru, etc. Anyone considering visiting any part of Latin America, go for it! Go alone; you'll meet tons of great people, and have total freedom. You'll meets lots of wonderful local people, and be invited into their homes. Take almost nothing with you, for you can get everything you need there for very little money. Latin America has to be the absolute ideal location for exploration on foot/backpack/bus! Take no luggage except one small backpack. The less you have, the better. Write me anytime if you have any questions. Latinos are very special people, and if you give them a chance, you'll want to go back to Central and South America again and again!
# Page created and updated by Tim D; January 1999 (updated 5/26/02)