Category Archives: Central America

El Mercado #2

 

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El Mercado #2

Oil on Canvas  16″  x  20″

Inspired by a photo taken in Santa Ana, El Salvador

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From Austin, Texas to Tucson, Arizona

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I thought about including this post in my Journey Through Latin America, but after spending some time in Texas I realized it really is not very Latino.  They have alot of Latinos there , and some great Tex-Mex food, but it really is a place of its own.  After a week with my parents in Victoria, Texas I scooted up to Reedville to stay over with my cousin Luke and his beautiful wife and darling daughter.  I took full advantage of the huge crop of pecans they had all over their yard before heading out towards Austin.  As I left Reedville I spotted this Longhorn grazing nearby.

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Austin, Texas has grown phenomenally since I lived there in the 80’s and early 90’s.  They seem to have raised a skyscraper for each of the 17 years since I left.  It is a fabulous place, with posh restaurants and a funky neo-retro look to all the latest architecture.   They have a great statue of my old buddy Stevie Ray on the shores of Ladybird Lake.

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Despite the urgings of my friends to stay in Austin and re-make my life there, I felt the Sonoran Desert calling me.  I had a long drive from Austin to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico where I stayed with my cousin Jeff.  I enjoyed meeting his kids and viewing his leatherworking shop, but soon I was back on the road to Arizona.  I stopped at my favorite rest area near Texas Canyon, AZ  where the landscape is otherworldly.

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By mid-afternoon I was in Tucson, and I breathed deep the air of the Sonoran Desert.   Stepping out of my car into the yard of my friend Ann Marie, the smell of creosote bush and other subtle fragrances wafted welcomely through my nostrils.  The next day I couldn’t wait to drive a little further west towards the Coyote Wilderness Area where I hope to purchase some land and begin building a Sustainable Desert Community.  This is my latest dream, and I encourage you to follow this new blog to see how it progresses.

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Journey Through Latin America (part 17)

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After a long day on the bus from Oaxaca, I finally arrived at the Hostal Santo Domingo in Puebla, Mexico.  It was chilly here, not only for the season, but also because of the high elevation.  Traffic was heavy, and I did not enjoy the high level of air pollution, but the hostel was nice, the showers were hot, and they provided two warm blankets as well as clean sheets.

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I walked around downtown Puebla a few hours looking for a white jacket or “ropa tipica” but had no luck.  There were several shops selling interesting rustic furniture and antiques.  I searched for several blocks, asking people along the way, for “un buen pozole” which I finally found.  Pozole is a thick spicy soup with hominy corn, meat and cheese and lettuce.  It was just what I needed.

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The hostal provided free internet access, and I spent a long while investigating the different possible routes to get back to Texas.  I had planned on stopping in one more city in Mexico to break up the trip, but either the buses did not arrive there from Puebla, or the expense was prohibitive.  I finally decided to just take an economical 18 hour trip straight to Reynosa on the Texan border.

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This is a shot of the river in Tuxpan, on the gulf coast of Mexico, which is where our bus was after travelling six hours from Puebla through Pachuca and Poza Rica.  We went on to Tampico, where everyone had to get off the bus for twenty minutes while they cleaned up and refueled.  When we took off I noticed the lady who had been sitting next to me was not there.  Fifteen minutes later she got on at a traffic light–she had missed the bus and had to take a taxi to catch up with us.

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By 6:30 AM we had reached Reynosa, and I had a weak club sandwich before boarding a $4 bus to McAllen, Texas.  It took almost 45 minutes to cross the intrenational bridge and get through US immigration, but everything went smoothly.  In McAllen I got straight on a bus to Victoria, with stops in Falfurrias and Corpus Christi along the way.  The weather was balmy, and apparently the winter was mild enough to keep the papaya tree in my parent’s backyard alive.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 16)

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It was hot and sweaty in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where I had to take one of these tricycle taxis from the bus station to the Mexican border.  It was much cheaper to walk across the bridge then to pay $4 to be tricycled across.  Guatemalan and Mexican immigration was smooth enough, although a slow and sweaty process.  From there I took a shuttle to Tapachula, where I had to wait a couple of hours for the bus to Arriaga.  It gave me time to relax and have some good Mexican tacos.  It seems to me that Mexican tortillas are the best.

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I enjoyed a night and a day in Arriaga, Mexico where I had stayed before, at the Hotel Chiapas, although they had raised their rates somewhat since I was here in October.  I had more great Mexican street tacos, then in the morning an incredible breakfast buffet for $4 that set me up through lunch.  I had to wait all day and into the night for my bus to leave for Oaxaca at 9PM.  It was nice to be in a real bus station rather than just a spot on the sidewalk.

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I slept on the bus all night and arrived in Oaxaca around 5AM, so the Hostel Paulina, where I had stayed in October, only charged me for the following night.  Breakfast was included, and the staff recognized me and requested a musical performance.  I gave them a Promo CD of Luis Sabor and the next morning they were playing it for the breakfast service.

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I really like Oaxaca, Mexico.  It is one of the few large state capital cities that still retain a relaxed atmosphere, despite being very busy and offering a great deal of opportunities for shopping and entertainment.  It is similar to Leon, Nicaragua in this regard.  I enjoyed visiting a large mercado, where I tried on a sombrero, since I had accidentally left my leather hat on a bus in Escuintla.

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I also tried a few of these “chapulines”: chili-fried crickets, at the insistence of my friend Porfirio, whom I had met back in October when I was busking in the Plaza.  Porfirio and I talked a great deal and he had an interesting story to tell.  Having grown up on the streets, he had just spent his first entire year dependence-free, after being addicted to heroin for six years.  It was inspiring to hear how he had pulled himself out of the gutter, literally, with the help of God, to escape the living hell he had endured.  He was incredibly optimistic, and I have felt compelled to pray for him, as his trials certainly cannot be over.

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After just two days in Oaxaca, I was ready to board another bus for a long trip to Puebla.  The bus stations were starting to resemble airports now, and the buses were more comfortable, including bathrooms and movies, although much more expensive than in other countries.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 15)

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I gratefully ate a roasted chicken dinner at a comedor just steps away from the Honduran/El Salvadoran border.  I took a bus to Santa Rosa de Lima, then another to San Salvador.  To my surprise the bus was air-conditioned and by the time I got to San Salvador I was freezing and dehydrated and extremely grateful to arrive at JoAn’s Hostal.  The owner Ana gave me time to clean up, then took me and two other guests to share a great pizza dinner.  Wow, what a great host! But thats not all. As we were talking about Casa Verde Hostal in Santa Ana, and how Ana had talked to the owner Carlos often but had never been to the place, the next day she offered to drive me an hour to Casa Verde herself!  Such a beautiful lady.

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It was great to eat El Salvadoran Pupusas, something like a meat&cheese&bean filled tortilla.  Delicious and cheap.  It took Ana and I a while to find the Casa Verde but although Carlos was at the lake entertaining some guests (El Salvadoran hostal owners are awesome hosts!)  we got to see the new addition to Casa Verde, which is simply fabulous, incredible, awesome and puts this hostel miles ahead of most of the other hostels I’ve experienced.

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I enjoyed walking around the Santa Ana market in search of groceries to cook in the brand new kitchen, which has just as many utensils and appliances as the old one, which was already the most awesome kitchen I’d seen.  I made an effort to take photos of people, and some of them actually asked to have their photo taken.  I find El Salvadoran people to be quite friendly and helpful.

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After a couple of beautiful days swimming in the very cold pool and exercising Qi Gong on the terrace overlooking the city and cooking my own food, I was ready to move on t0 Guatemala.  I tried to find a route avoiding Antigua, or what I like to call “Gringotenango”, but it really has a good location, so I went on back to Hostal Pasar de los Años and actually enjoyed myself for the one night and partial day I was there.  The morning I left I went to a favorite restaurant for breakfast, and there was the same family sitting at their favorite table that I had met back in October.  We chatted a while and I enjoyed a good breakfast before a long day on the road.

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From Antigua I took a bus to Escuintla, where it was quite warm, but I decided not to take the route through Xela that I took in October because I wanted to enjoy the heat as long as I could.  I was let off on a sidewalk in Escuintla and proceeded to ask everyone I could where to find a bus to Retalhuleu.  Five blocks later I was on another sidewalk and a pullman bus pulled up quickly and we stuffed my backpack and guitar below as the driver was already driving off.  As I squeezed on I realized there was standing room only, and I spent most of the trip sitting or standing right there by the driver.

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At Retalhuleu I found a decent Hotel, walked several blocks looking for a restaurant in vain, then ate some street tacos by the plaza.  The next morning I ate a fresh pan dulce with juice before standing around almost an hour waiting for the bus to the Mexican border.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 14)

Okay, I’m now well on my way back home to Arizona.  I flew from Lima, Peru to San Jose, Costa Rica which cost a bit more than I had planned.  When I arrived at the ticket counter in Lima the young lady informed me that Costa Rica would not allow me to enter the country after being in Peru without a yellow fever vaccination, ten days prior to entering Costa Rica.  How could I do that? I was not allowed to switch my flight to another country, and staying in Lima for another 10 days would cost hundreds of dollars.  As it turned out, the airline is accustomed to the situation and set me up with a valid vaccination document pre-dated by 15 days from a nearby hospital, and I just had to pay $210 (to tip everyone involved)  Well it sucked, but everything went smoothly after that , and I was so happy to land in Costa Rica.  I immediately felt my spirits rise as I stepped out into the relatively fresh air of Alajuela, and I enjoyed a good night at the nearby Hostel Maleku, where I had stayed before.

The next morning I took out just a little bit more colones from the ATM than I had caluculated to get me to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.  The bus ride was a bit long, but not uncomfortable, and we stopped halfway to Liberia for a break, which has been rare on my trip.  In Liberia I met two Swedish girls who were also on the way to San Juan del Sur, so we went through customs together, lucky for them, for they had no dollars, and Nicaragua doesn’t accept anything else to enter the country.  I lent them the $24 they needed, then we shared a taxi to San Juan, and they paid me back when we arrived at the Surfing Donkey.  It was great to see friendly faces, and I was amazed at how many of the guys had stayed on to become employees there.

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I rested at San Juan del Sur just a couple of days, and it was great to hit the beach and swim in the pool and eat Nicaraguan food.  The second and last night I was there, the Surfing Donkey folks decided to try out a new drinking game concept:  1 shot of rum every 5 minutes until you pass out or vomit.  Sounds fun huh? right, well I was one of a number of observers and eventually caregivers to the four participants.  It was pretty funny the first hour, then it got a little scary.  Three folks were sick or passed out within 1 1/2 hours, and the winner, Dan the Bear that Grills, was still steady.

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I woke up early the next morning, did a short Qi Gong workout, then heaved my backpack on, picked up my guitar, and walked a few blocks to catch the direct bus to Managua.  When I reached Managua I had to take a taxi across town to the station for buses to Leon, but it all went smoothly and a couple of hours later I was paying another taxista in Leon just $1 to take me to Lazybones Hostel, where I had spent a week back in November.  This time in Leon I decided to make an effort to photograph people, which I am rather uncomfortable doing.  Most of the time people don’ t like to be photographed by strangers, so some of the photos I just shot from the hip so to speak ( more like from the chest.)

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Besides the swimming pool at Lazybones, I had been looking forward to two things in Leon: Asado Pelibuey (bbq lamb) and some excellent French pastries.  Saturday night they ran out of pelibuey, so I had to eat chicken, but it was awesome with the gallo pinto, tortilla, slaw and fried plantain.  Then Sunday morning the French bakery was closed, but I bought some delicious bbq pork  at the market served on mashed yuca (manioc) and slaw, wrapped in a banana leaf.  Monday I had my pastry and my pelibuey.

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Yes that is iguana for sale in the Leon market downtown, although I never saw it offered on any menu.  I just stayed in Leon a couple of days but as luck would have it, or as a gift from above, I stopped to listen to a band begin their set on an open-air stage downtown and when I heard the Santana style I hurried back to the hostal for my guiro.  I started playing along and the band members called me up onstage and we jammed out for a couple of hours to a very appreciative crowd.

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I woke up before dawn and did some Qi Gong under the stars by the pool, then I grabbed my belongings and took a taxi to the bus station.  The direct bus to the El Salvadoran border had left at 4:30 AM, so I took a chicken bus to Chinandega, then a shuttle to the border, watching the Volcan Chinandega as I left Nicaragua.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 13)

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From Costa Rica I took a big leap south to Lima, Peru where I have been for several weeks visiting my son who lives here permanently.  After travelling in Central America for the past three months, I was a bit culture-shocked upon arrival to this immense metropolis.  As a taxi driver informed me, Lima has more than 13 million inhabitants.  It could hardly be more different than Monteverde Costa Rica.

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I’m staying at a very comfortable hostel, Youth Hostel Malka, located in San Isidro, near the touristy district of Miraflores.  If Lima were New York City, than San Isidro and Miraflores would be Manhatten.  Most hotels are quite expensive here, but the hostel is only $12 a night for a dorm, and they throw down a really great breakfast with fresh squeezed OJ, eggs and fresh rolls, coffee or tea.  It is a considerable distance from Callao, where my son lives, so I have become adept at utilizing the very efficient microbus system.  You can catch a bus easily within 5 minutes and they charge little more than fifty cents for most destinations.

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Throughout the metropolis are beautifully manicured parks, which is really nice in such a vast concrete jungle.  There are also quite alot of birds about, mostly pigeons and doves, though from time to time some exotic species may appear.

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Many of the small neighborhood parks have permanent shrines, and for Christmas they add a nativity scene.  The baby Jesus doesn’t appear until Christmas day.

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Peru is full of ancient ruins, and Lima itself has several “Huacas”, which are something like mudbrick pyramids.  This is one in the heart of San Isidro, Huaca Pucllaya.

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The tour guide at the Huaca assured us that the Incas had developed 3000 different varieties of potato, although I think that 300 is sufficiently impressive.  He also showed us “cuys”, or guinea pigs, which are a popular food in the Andean regions, and the “Perro Chino”, a hairless dog which is actually native to Peru.  The guide was sincere in pointed out the great advantage this pooch has as a substitute for a hot water bottle in bed at night.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 12)

 

 

 

 

After resting up in Liberia, Costa Rica for a few days, I was ready for the journey to Monteverde.   Offered every taxi driver on the plaza 500 colones, or one dollar, to take me to the bus terminal, but they all turned me down and I just heaved my backpack and guitar the six blocks and got on a bus to Cañas.

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From Cañas I took a short ride to Tilaran, where we waited an hour for the bus to Monteverde.  Seeing Tilaran I wished I had spent a couple of days there instead of Liberia, but it was too late to stop there as I was rapidly approaching my flight date of Dec 12 out of San Jose.  At the bus stop I ran into a nice Dutch lady named Lisel, whom I had met in Liberia, and who has been riding a bicycle all over Costa Rica.  What fun!  She was taking the bus to Monteverde, however, because the road is steep and rough.  The road is indeed rough, and my bladder seemed so full by the time we finally arrived in Santa Elena, the actual town near the Monteverde Reserve.  The road was so dusty that my backpack and guitar , which had been stored below, were covered with a thick layer of it.

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The scenery was quite beautiful and cool as we climbed up into the clouds.  In Santa Elena I stayed at a recommended hostel, Pension Santa Elena, which is quite reasonable and just a block from the bus stop, and is run by a brother/sister team from Austin, Texas with the surname of Smith.

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After talking to the beautiful receptionist about my journey, I set off for the bar Tres Monos that she recommended as a place I might perform my show as Luis Sabor.  After talking to the owner, we arranged for me to play that Saturday night at the Dikary Restaurant, which turned out to be alot of fun.

The day before the show was when I made the mandatory journey to the cloudforest.  Most of the other travellers I met were also taking zip line tours, night tours, bungee jumping and many other fun things, but my budget allowed me only the walk in the jungle.  I loved it.

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I first saw an agouti sniffing around the banana trees at the entrance, then I glimpsed a light-colored coyote and a raptor of some sort, and I heard what may have been a toucan.  Later on I heard and saw a troop of coatimundis, one of which was quite large, but I couldn´t get a good shot for a photo, and it was rather dark.  I started shooting with abandon and took a video as well, and suddenly my battery was dead.  A while later I saw some white-faced capuchin monkeys and miraculously my camera had just enough juice left for a photo.

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A friend of mine from Tucson, Susu,  whom I had not seen for 13 years lives in Monteverde with her Tico husband Marcos who is an excellent guide, and they graciously invited me to stay with them a couple of nights in their lovely new house with their lovely new daughter Eva, who is absolutely adorable.

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Susu´s parents have a large property and gorgeous home, complete with orchard and greenhouse, and there is a large section of the land that is easily as pleasant to walk through as the reserve.  The following photos should make it obvious why so many retirees move to Costa Rica.

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The last night in Monteverde we went to a choir performance directed by Susu´s father Hugh Gray and featured the Smith family, of Pension Santa Elena.  It really is a small, close-nit community, and I think within a few weeks I could have met most of the members.    I really enjoyed my visit there and hope to come back, but I have a plane to catch in San Jose, bound for Lima, Peru.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 11)

The journey continues.  First of all I would like to thank those of you who chipped in to buy me a new camera after my previous one broke.  I didn´t think I would be blogging much without photos.  As a result the only town I won´t be able to share photos of is Playa Coco, Costa Rica, and it was a beautiful, if overpriced, spot.DV IMAGE

I did stay in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua over a week, although the constant partying at the Surfing Donkey was not my style.  They started playing music before noon, so I started playing guitar and singing after breakfast to get mine in, and later many guests communicated the pleasure they had in waking up to my music.  Otherwise I played outside on the sidewalk or on a bench in the plaza. I met some outstanding people at Surfing Donkey, however, and I actually had a shot of rum and a beer my last night, the first in 12 years!   That night we had a big barbecue featuring mahi mahi and shrimp kebabs, and the hostel filled up and was roaring even more than usual.  I was ready to leave for Costa Rica the next morning.DV IMAGE

The chicken bus ride to the main highway was short and cheap, and I of course met someone as I was leaving that I had met before in Granada.  I waved off the taxi that offered to take me to the border, so he offered the ride for $2 and I accepted.  The ride was short, but the line to enter Costa Rica immigration was very long, like a half hour wait I think.  From there it was easy to catch a bus to Liberia, and guess what? no chicken buses in Costa Rica! it was a comfortable ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Hotel Liberia was nice and mellow and clean, and I lucked into a dorm room with no roommate for $10.  The food here in Costa Rica is expensive however, and it is just a given to spend at least $5 a meal here.  Keeping to my $20 a day budget will be next to impossible.

I enjoyed a wonderful rainstorm and cool cloudy, windy day in Liberia, then left to the coast nearby.  Playa del Coco is beautiful but the food is even more expensive, and the place is crawling with tourists who apparently don´t mind paying the inflated prices.  I stayed in the one of the few hostels that had dorms for $10 an night, but it was pretty ugly in that section.  The owner said he was planning to tear that building down in a month or so and put in a swimming pool.  Here is where I pulled out my camera to discover that the lens had dropped down and was incapable of taking photos.  The next day I decided to go back to Liberia and hang out there a while.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 10)

 

Arriving in Granada, Nicaragua was very easy from Masaya.  It cost a few cents by chicken bus and I arrived in less than an hour.  I could tell I was near the central plaza when I saw the colonial buildings and I signalled the bus-driver to stop by banging on the ceiling of the bus.  Luckily, I turned out to be only four blocks or so from the hostal Oasis, so I didn’t have to hire a taxi.  When I entered Hostal Oasis I had a tremendous case of deja-vu, the layout was almost exactly like Lazybones in Leon.  The reception, garden, pool, dorms, common areas all were almost identical.  Then when I entered my room I encountered two fellows I had met at Lazybones! is that funny or what?  I’m beginning to get used to this sort of thing along the “gringo trail.”

At first glance I liked Granada, there’s a lot to like: colonial buildings, cool breeze from the nearby lake, and everything designed with the tourist in mind.  Therein lies the rub.  Because of so many tourists the prices are inflated in restaurants, and anywhere you go you are accosted by salesmen, taxistas, moneychangers, tour guides or just plain beggars.

Hostal Oasis was an oasis from the chaos outside, and I enjoyed cooking my own dinners in the kitchen and meeting lots of travellers from all over the world: Israel, Austria, Germany , and of course Canada.  I couldn’t imagine what to do with my time outside of the hostal, and though I enjoyed playing guitar and using the free internet, I decided it was time for San Juan Del Sur.

I took a short, cheap bus ride to Rivas, then another to San Juan.  I realized immediately why everyone adores San Juan del Sur:  the streets are clean, the air is cool, and it is small and well arranged around the beach, plaza, and market–all just a few blocks from one another.

Just as I stepped off the bus I spotted a young lady wearing a Surfing Donkey T-shirt, the hostal I was looking for.  Giselle from Argentina guided me three blocks to the hostal, which was $7 a night for a dorm with breakfast and kitchen facilities, and a cold swimming pool.  I think I´ll be staying here a few days.

A funny thing, or two, happened today:  just after having lunch at a comedor in the market I bumped into Matt, who was one of the guys I had met in Leon AND Granada, so he holds the record for the most times I’ve met someone on my trip by accident.  Then a few minutes later I was talking to Elena from Italy who promotes Surfing Donkey as well as her macrame bracelets, when I spied another familiar face– Do from Israel, whom I had met way back at Casa Verde in Santa Ana, El Salvador.  He told me he had just put Megan on the bus, so I just had time to wave hello/goodbye to her.  Like I said, I’m getting used to this sort of thing on the gringo trail.

 

 


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