Monthly Archives: November 2016

Central America aka The Gringo Trail

My experience on backpacking the Gringo Trail in Central America can’t really be described in a couple of words. I was a first time solo traveler and had no idea what I was doing. Which, in hind sight, was probably the best way to go into it.

Central America constitutes more than just the countries listed below – Belize, Honduras and Mexico are left out because I didn’t visit them.

Guatemala 

My first stop in Central America was Guatemala. I landed in Guatemala City, a city with a lot of crime and not many options for tourists.

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After the scariest bus ride of my life, I arrived in Lake Atitlan. Situated around the lake are several little villages, each with their own vibe. Boats run across the lake daily and you can grab one for few dollars to visit each of the towns, since there is no road connecting all of them.  I stayed here for a month working on a farm in San Marcos La Laguna, the hippy-est of them all, attracting a ton of new-agers.

Highlights of Lake Atilian were going to the Butterfly Sanctuary in Panajachel, the Women’s Weaving Cooperative in San Juan La Laguna and camping at Indians Nose overnight to see the sunrise in the morning.

Next stop was Antigua and OMG DID I LOVE ME SOME ANTIGUA. I don’t know if it was because I stayed in sleepy San Marcos for a month or what, but everything about this place just felt right. Here I stayed at a home stay with some other backpackers who were also learning spanish. Well, they were learning Spanish. I was trying to and failing.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-7-23-03-pmHighlights of Antigua include a night out of care free dancing, a ten-hour round-trip overnight hike up Acatenango Volcano to see the sunrise and El Fuego booming and a local soccer game featuring a very animated hype squad / drum line.

El Salvador

Initially, I did not plan on going to El Salvador at all. It’s pretty dangerous and over run by gangs. The kind of gangs that have such control of the country that buses stop running after sun down. But, plans change, especially when traveling and, in this case, I’m so glad it did.

Highlights include Edward (the one-winged Pelican of La Tortuga Verde), the locals in Juyaya who told us that if we go to the store and buy a frog they’ll cook it for us, getting stuck in Rivas overnight because there were no more buses running.

I guess some of these memories don’t really sound pleasant from an outsider’s perspective, but El Salvador ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Nicaragua

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By this point in the trip I had been going for about two months and had met enough people to start a small village. I had already booked the Pullmantur Cruise and knew I was going to Europe after, so I was a little tired and not wanting to spend a ton of money. Hence, I mostly remember Nica as a place where I relaxed, swam, and read.

Still, I had a lot of fun. Highlights include the Tortuga Boolada Hostel in Leon. That place was so relaxed and everyone was really friendly over breakfast. Surfing at Playa Popopyo, where they held the World Surf Championships a few years back, was a lot of fun. I nearly died, but still, good times. I’ll also never forget exploring Ometepe and the clean waters of Ojo de Agua.

Costa Rica

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Since it’s the most expensive country in Central America, I barely spent any time in Costa Rica. The time that I did spend here, two weeks, was spent teaching Yoga at Tico Lingo, a Spanish School in Heredia. It was a chill two weeks spent doing a whole lot of nothing with the other volunteers and teaching small classes to the owner of the school and some of the students. I found this program through Workaway.info.

Panama

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Oh Panama, the last stop on my trip before taking a 14 day cruise to Portugal. I think I only spent a day or two here and it rained a lot, but it was a fun couple days as I stayed in this beautiful colonial mansion-turned-hostel called Luna’s Castle in Panama City. There I had the pleasure of meeting a fun group of people traveling together and we all went out and danced to Rihanna’s “Work” for what was probably the 1231st time that month.

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Living in Vietnam – Month One, Pros & Cons

It’s been exactly one month since moving to Ho Chi Minh City. Adjusting to a huge change, although worth it, has it’s pros and cons.

So, before waxing poetic about Saigon’s more attractive features, let me tell you what has been the most difficult to adjust to.

IMG_4630.JPGThe Traffic. Most Westerners, myself included, maintain the notion that walking into oncoming traffic is not safe. In Vietnam that is not the case. If you want to cross the road, you better get comfortable walking into a mass of trucks, motorbikes, pushbikes and cars that somehow organizes itself.

The roads are both impressive and dizzying, showcasing the ways in which Asia’s collective society is different then an individualist one. In the US, at least in New York, this would never fly. Someone in a rush to get to work would do something dumb and kill everyone. But in Asia, admittedly, it works. Still terrifying though. img_4670

The heat. It’s hot and humid. Sometimes we’re given a break with a little rain, but otherwise, I’ve found myself retreating to that air con, which, thankfully, is very common here.

The air quality. Vietnam’s air pollution is among the worst in the world. At times it can feel like you’ve got chlorine in your eyes. Another reason to retreat to air con.

OK, well that was fun. Now on to the good…

The people They smile. They’re friendly. They’re into public napping and setting up hammocks literally anywhere. In other words, despite the chaos of the city, Vietnamese people are a relatively chill bunch.

Also, plus side as a women, cat calling and general annoying male aggression isn’t much of a thing here.

The food Oh, the food. If I could eat anything for the rest of my life I think it actually might be Vietnamese food. It’s pretty healthy, incorporating lots of vegetables, seafood and leafy greens WHILE STILL TASTING GOOD. And, since it’s a tropical climate, fresh fruits galore. All at extremely cheap prices (around 3-4 USD for a meal).

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The English Vietnamese people want to learn English and they don’t give you flak if you don’t speak Vietnamese. It’s a sad fact for non-English speaking cultures that it’s basically essential to speak English in order to participate in the world’s economy, but Vietnam, the developing country that it is, seems to be embracing that fact well. There’s still some language barrier, but not as bad as other places I’ve been to, at least in Ho Chi Minh.

The cafe scene Coffee to-go isn’t really a thing here. In Vietnam, the thing to do is to hang out for hours in cafes, which are everywhere and all have different themes/vibes, ranging from the posh to the obscure.
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Cost of living Ubers costs anywhere from 50 cents to 2 dollars. Hostels are $6-13/night. My private room in a hotel right now is costing me $15/night. Monthly rent can be anywhere from $150-450 depending on your standards.

Great place to teach English Unfortunately, I am still not Paris Hilton and need to actually work to extend my travels. A sad fact of life, but I’ll do it. Armed with a TEFL and/or a Bachelor’s degree it’s really easy to get a job teaching here. My first week here I got four interviews just from an hour or two of applying.

Great place to volunteer TBD, as I’m working on getting set up with an organization, but from what I’ve heard, you can definitely volunteer here and have a meaningful experience.

@kbeebrain

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