The thing about travel that resonates with me and attracts me so much, has to be the ability to totally change plans.
At the time of writing my last blog, I would have told you that I’d still be living as part of that yogic community in the forests just outside of San Juan del Sur. And although I am geographically still pretty close to there, in every other sense of the word, I’m a million miles from it.
So I left San José, Costa Rica, that morning and boarded a Tica Bus bound for Managua, Nicaragua.
I excitedly checked my bag on to the bus, paid my exit fee of US$12, and grabbed myself a microwaved breakfast of eggs rice and beans (Gallo Pinto).
It was 7am and I’d secured myself a window seat for this 8hour journey. I had a plan. To get on that bus and to sleep. Sleep and read. I’m not traveling with much music at the moment due to a broken laptop and freeing space on my phone for more photos; which I’m quite happy to do as it means I am more aware of what is going on around me on all these long bus rides. I’m sure you can imagine my distinct frustration to board the bus, American Psycho in hand, to be greeted by two Ticos (a polite word for native Costa Ricans) who were watching loud music videos, and seemingly not very funny comedy shows on their phone, and continued to do this for two hours straight, whilst laughing hysterically out loud. Once they finally stopped this, the male of the pair decided to take the seat behind mine to stretch out for his sleep. That’s fine. Sure. But he wasn’t a small man, and managed to stuff his knees up against the back of my chair, kicking like a small child on an aeroplane, whilst sticking his feet through the centre of my chair, and the chair next to me. You won’t be surprised to hear I have since downloaded some more music on my phone.
At the border things got very confusing. The entire bus load were directed off the vehicle and into an office, where we had our passports stamped. “Great” I thought. That was quick. Back onto the bus we got. Then a man in uniform came and asked me for money into Nicaragua. An entry tax, which again is common, and not a problem. He also took my passport, which I was slightly uneasy about, however, I watched all the other passengers and I followed suit.
We then pulled into a big concrete coach park, with about 8 other coaches. Everyone got up to leave the bus and again, I followed. No one spoke any English and my Spanish is coming on very well, when asking for an apple and if anyone has seen my trousers, however, those sorts of phrases are somewhat redundant in such a situation.
Everyone dispersed and I left the bus to be greeted by an abundance of moustached, Hispanic men, waving currencies at me. Dollars, Colones, Cordobas. Luckily it wasn’t for the reasons you may think, and they were simply carrying out their own business as exchange bureaus.
I looked to my right and my bag had somehow exited the bus and was left on the floor. I picked it up, confused and sweaty, and shouting “No Gracias” as nicely as I could to the army of people trying to sell me things and exchange my money. I entered a big official looking building, that unfortunately was as unofficial as the car park, with people running around and yelling things in Spanish.
I followed the crowd, where I had my luggage X-Ray’d, before returning to the bus where someone grabbed my bag, asking me, “Managua?” before throwing it back into the underbelly of the bus.
The bus driver sat in his seat, reading the newspaper, feet up on the dashboard, blasting the air conditioning, whilst keeping us locked outside on the Tarmac for around 45 minutes. Luckily there was no shortage of vendors selling food, so after perusing all my options, I settled for my second Gallo Pinto of the day. This one was served with, what I thought was cheese, but turned out to be the most disgusting curd I’ve ever tried, so I fed it to a stray dog hanging out in the immigration bus park. As I did this I looked up to meet the gaze of an angry looking local, standing next to the old woman I’d bought this from. Suddenly, wracked with fear that I’d just gravely insulted his mother and would be punished, I slithered off into the crowds to locate the ice cream man.
Eventually, we were allowed back on the bus, and my passport was returned to me, with a big Nicaraguan stamp. I was in.
Finally I got to Managua, where unfortunately I had to visit in order to run an errand, and hit the hay almost instantaneously.
The next day I was up early and got myself to Huembe Bus Terminal, to catch a bus south, to Rivas.
Entering the bus terminal was like going back to India. It was crazy. People yelling things, pushing, shoving. My bag got taken by a helpful yet unsettling man and thrown under what is known as a chicken bus. I didn’t see any chickens, however I wouldn’t have been surprised.
I felt like I was a child in wartime Britain (although everyone speaking Spanish) and was being sent away because of the Blitz. People were hanging out windows, saying goodbye to loved ones and crying; I was hanging out a window trying to buy a packet of crisps due to getting rushed and pushed onto the bus before having had time to eat.
After many people getting on the bus trying to sell a range of goods from tacos to colouring-in crayons to seeds, we finally were on the move.
On this journey I experienced the most insane thunderstorm of epic proportions.
I shan’t bore you with details, however, was thoroughly convinced of own impending death due to fork lightning crashing down from the skies at alarming rates, and the fact I was riding, what was essentially, a tin can for adults rather than tuna.
And so the treasure hunt began. I’d printed a set of instructions sent to me previously by Xian, who runs the commune, and it was certainly not the easiest of places to find. All I knew was that I was in Rivas. And there is a town 29KM away called San Juan del Sur. And on this road at some point between the two there is a gap in the barrier on the left, that has a very small sign saying “Rancho del Oro”, and I must follow this sign, even though where I’m going, isn’t Rancho del Oro.
After driving around and past the sign a few times, the taxi driver and I finally found it. I asked him to drop me there at the road side and I’d make my way in to the forest myself, not wanting to make a big scene of my arrival, as I knew that Xian doesn’t want to promote her commune to the neighbours, thus disrupting their way of life.
He insisted he drove me and after the car struggled to climb a very steep hill, pass a pack of very snarly and angry dogs, and almost get lost amid trees, I must say I was grateful for his persistence when I finally reached the sign for the commune.
After remarking at how unsweaty I was considering the big climb with my backpack (didn’t tell them about the taxi), I explained “oh I don’t really perspire” (another lie) and sat in the back garden and talked to Xian and the three other volunteers helping at the Ashram / commune.
The day was drawing to a close, and some of the others made a big vegan-friendly dinner, whilst Xian warned me to keep an eye out for scorpions, tarantulas, a spider that lived under my bed that they weren’t sure if it was a scorpion as it moved sideways like a crab yet had a leg-span bigger than my left ass cheek, oh and of course the coral snakes whom are venomous. I took this onboard along with trying to stay level headed that it can’t be THAT bad, seeing as she lets her twin babies roll around on the floor freely.
We each took out matts and did some poses on the floor, however, I found that maybe this place was less about the practise of yoga, and more about the theology behind it. There was a lot of talk of the art of breathing, Tibetan monks, and something that didn’t sit well with me; the importance of celibacy.
That was my first twinge of “maybe this is over my head”. After all, I want to do yoga to get fit and gain better balance, not know about the seven different ways I can breathe through my dominant nostril.
We then went outdoors to do our three hours of gardening in the commune, where I planted some nectarine seeds and raked out a path.
After playing with the babies some more, and reading my book, I could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. To cut a long story short the headache turned into a migraine, which turned into a cold sweat, which turned into an anxiety attack which turned into a projectile vomit.
All this whilst a white guy with dreads insisted on playing his didgeri-bloody-doo that he’d just made from a piece of bamboo.
Debating over being a failure and then being reminded by the Trustafarian that nothing was worth this new form of torture, I made the decision to leave the next morning.
After saying my goodbyes (especially to the babies who I’d totally fallen in love with in that short amount of time) I again donned the backpack and made my way out into the forest and onto the dirt track, to find my way back to civilisation and toilets where people flushed their poo.
It’s nice now I’ve got to the grand old age of 26, where I don’t need to prove myself like I used to. I’ve lived in Fiji, and many other examples have been experienced by me to demonstrate my lack of fear in roughing it. However, I’ve done that now. And living in a house, however lovely the residents, where people generally have the runs and yet there’s no soap or cleaning products due to their chemical content, well….I just don’t need to do that any more.
I finally emerged from the forest, sweaty and exhausted on the side of the road, where I hailed a car and got a ride to the town of San Juan del Sur.
I checked into a cheap and clean hostel, and showered with soap (hurrah) and spent a couple of days practising yoga without having to discuss giving up my sex drive (hurrah again) and eating cheap, fresh and delicious fish.
I then caught a shuttle about an hour and 30 minutes up the coast to a tiny little hamlet called Playa Gigante. The minute I got there I fell in love with the beauty.
Nothing was there. Nothing. Just a selection of small restaurants and hostels; most of which were closed due to it being low season at the moment. I checked into a $10 per night hostel, which was bloody lovely as far as hostels go (own fan and everything, in big natural wooden bunks) and relaxed.
Later that day I met three people from the USA; Alexie, Kyle and Juan, and Robbie who was cycling through the Americas (although Australian), and instantly I hit it off with them all. I had a group, and it wasn’t even difficult.
The next day we met some more people, one of whom being Sierra, also from the States, who was just all round bloody lovely. We decided to all go on a catamaran booze cruise for three hours, which is probably one of the best $10 I’ve spent so far. We were all just mindlessly bobbing up and down on inflatable rings and life jackets, drunk as skunks thanks to the unlimited “Pirate Punch” we were given. I can’t tell you how much salt water I drank that day, having continually dunked my cup of Pirate Punch into the sea, however it was all worth it, and we had a great time on the boat.
The next day was our last all together, and after hours of lounging in the sun and swimming in the beautiful sea, we climbed a peninsula jutting out into the ocean called Giant’s Foot. From here we watched the sun set, beautiful colours pouring from behind the clouds and onto the sea, and we all got sentimental about how much we all liked each other, and drank some tinnies.
We’ve since split up, Which is really sad as we had the best couple of days together. However I guess I started this blog saying what I love most is freedom when traveling; I suppose even better than that is the people you meet who make the best impacts that last lifetimes.