Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I'm coming HOME!

Just a quick post to say....

AMERICA! I'm coming for you!!! In January I get to spend a glorious ten days at home, including my birthday! It's the first birthday I will have celebrated in America in four years and I'm looking forward to my favorite cake from mommy :)

It also seems that the timing has turned out just right to be able to see my sister and her family before they move down to Texas in January. 

Overall it's going to be just wonderful and I can hardly wait! 

Yep, that's how I feel about going home!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Suchitoto Bound!

I guess if nothing goes wrong it's just not adventurous enough. At least, that's how it feels sometimes traveling. We woke up extra early in the morning to leave Copan, only to discover that we probably didn't have enough cash on us and NONE of the ATMs in town were functioning - some luck, eh? In the end the woman working in our hostel was able to exchange some money for us and, with a bit of a delay, we were on our way to Suchitoto, El Salvador. The trip was going quite smoothly at the beginning, although we still were rather on edge about whether or not we could make it to our destination before dark because believe me, we weren't keen on traveling anywhere in El Salvador at night.
Traveling by bus in Central America = AMAZING views!
On the road
Why yes, that man standing up on the bus does have a giant gun.
The panic didn't set in until on our second to last bus the other passengers began telling us that there wouldn't be anymore buses to Suchitoto that night. They said we could try to hitchhike, but I'm sure you can imagine how we felt about that option. The other passengers confirmed, however, that there was a hotel in the city where we were supposed to make our last bus transfer, so we resolved to sleep there for the night. That is, of course, until the nice old lady who got off the bus with us asked around on the streets only to find out that this supposed hotel actually doesn't exist at all. She also told us not to take a taxi. "Too dangerous!" she repeated. At this point she said something to Mario which he briefly hesitated before translating to me. "She says we can come home with her and sleep on her floor". As crazy as it sounds, at that point sleeping at a strangers house was the least risky of our options, so off we headed. And then suddenly, as we turned the corner, a bus was sitting there - destination Suchitoto. As we boarded the bus and waited impatiently for it to depart, we looked at the setting sun and began to wonder if taking the bus was our best decision after all.

At the border, before our second to last bus ride
By the time we got to Suchitoto it was pitch black, made worse by the heavy rains which had caused a power outage in the entire town. And since we had absolutely no idea where we were going, we were thankful yet again for the ever-helpful locals who showed us the way with one teenage boy even leading us directly to the hostel's doorstep.

At our hostel they welcomed us with smiles and showed us to our room by candlelight.  We were the only guests except for some volunteers who had rented out the private rooms, so we had the dorm room to ourselves, something we definitely weren't going to complain about.  Using Mario's flashlight we decided to take turns showering after the long day of stuffy, hot buses.  We had resolved to go to sleep with rumbly tummies since we hadn't eaten hardly anything and everything was closed down for the night, especially with the power outage. Just as Mario was getting back from his shower, however, the lights came back on! And the hostel owner (they also have a restaurant upstairs) offered to cook us something up! Let me just say that those giant nachos and strawberry milkshake was the best comfort food ever after such a long and, at times, anxiety-filled day.  As they say, all's well that ends well! :)


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Long Bus Journeys and a Day in Honduras

Finally, some more tales from Central America!  To be honest I haven't been feeling too well lately and my days go something like this - wake up, go to work, go to an apartment viewing, study, sleep.  All of this while attempting not to ''toss my cookies'' to put it one way. And while most days I can't complain about the comprehensive healthcare which every resident of Germany enjoys, my primary care physician is proving to be a ''let me just give you these pills and write you off of work for a few days'' type.  Perhaps it's time for a new doctor! Anyhow, life isn't all bad news these days and I have a few exciting announcements coming up in the next months, but for now, onto stories of adventures past!

After our restless night in the Managua Tica Bus hotel, we boarded our 5:30 AM bus and set out on the all-day journey to San Salvador. Mario immediately hit it off with some of the El Salvadorians on the bus and had some nice, long chats. I enjoyed listening in on their conversations and chatted a bit with the only other gringos on the bus, a Canadian woman traveling with her young son. The border crossing through Honduras proved to be quite simple, although it was a good thing that we had gotten our yellow fever vaccinations, as Nicaragua wasn't going to let us out without them since we had been in Panama.
First signs of El Salvador

Walmart in El Salvador?
The journey ended up taking a bit longer than planned, so it was quite dark by the time we arrived in San Salvador. Thankfully we were once again staying at the Tica Bus hotel though and this one was much nicer than the one in Managua.  The temperatures in San Salvador were also much more bearable and we were glad to relax a bit after a long day on the road. 

In the morning we wanted to get to Santa Ana as early as possible to enjoy the city and hopefully climb the volcano. As it turned out, however, we woke up to a steady downpour of rain and knew that our chances of making it up the volcano were quite slim. Once we got to Santa Ana and our hostel the owner of the hostel told us that we could pretty much forget climbing the volcano for the next several days. Of course this was pretty disappointing and we also had no desire to sit around the hostel all day. So off we were again for a day filled with traveling in order to reach Copan, Honduras. In the hostel in Santa Ana a traveler had posted his experience making the journey by local bus, but unfortunately it turned out that most of his supposed connection times were rather unrealistic. You see, traveling by bus in Central America is actually quite uncomplicated. You get off the bus and immediately there are young men standing outside of your bus shouting out which destinations their buses are headed to.  You just follow whichever one of them you need (and the young man will usually take your bags for you), hop on the next bus, and wait for it to take off. Sometimes you might wait just a minute or two for departure, while other times you may sit around for a good half an hour. And while we had a couple of lucky connections, we had to wait a while for a couple of our connections and the border crossings definitely took longer than this traveler's advice led us to believe.  Another convenient thing about the buses in Central America is that there is always someone coming on the bus to sell anything from cold drinks to candies to complete lunches.  At least we didn't have to worry about being hungry during our travels.

Another day on the road!

We made it!

Mario definitely deserved that beer after our day of traveling
In the end, after a bit of a stressful day of travel, we made it Copan just a bit after dark.  Copan itself is quite quiet and safe and we treated ourselves to a nice dinner across the street from our hostel.  During our dinner in started raining, or should I say, the skies opened up and Copan's streets became rivers, the power went out, and we watched several cars attempted to drive up the flooded street, only to go sliding right back down.  

After that raining night of multiple power-outages we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. After an early-morning walk around the city we had breakfast and headed out to the Mayan ruins which make Copan so famous.

Mayan Ruins

These stairs contain inscriptions which helped researchers understand much more than previously known about the Mayans. Unfortunately, the public being allowed to walk on them until the 1970s as well as sun and weather damage has made research increasingly difficult. 

After our trip to the ruins, we still needed something to fill up our afternoon. So we joined in on a tour to some hot springs nearby and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of hot and cold pools, a steam bath, water-powered shoulder massages, and a mud bath. Because the van transporting us there has to drive through back roads and because of the remote location of the hot springs, two armed police officers accompanied our group on the trip, a practice which many tours in Central America have adopted in recent years. I find this very good and quite reasonable, as tourism brings a lot of money into the Central American economy, but tourists will only come if they feel safe.

I would definitely recommend it to any visitors to Copan
The neck and back massage waterfall
Perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon

Natural steam bath
Of course, local beers in the evening
Back at our hostel we cooked a yummy dinner and then called it a night, glad to have filled up our day in Copan and ready for the next adventure the following day - heading back to and finally staying in El Salvador.