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Our adventure to the real Valle de Cocora

There’s so much beauty to see in Colombia and on top of that the people we met were fantastic.  cocora-7

Off to the coffee plantation with our great friends, Bernardo and Krystina.  First of all, I would like to thank Christian, one who can’t stand the smell of coffee for doing a tour with me here.  I looked online to find a tour and with some luck I found one outside the cutest town, Salento at the base of the Valle de Cocora.  We took the tour and a million pictures to capture the moment of sipping this fine cafe in the coolest cup.  (The cup made many appearances in the show Narcos, so it had to be genuine.)  Here are some pictures of the cafeteros(coffee plantation towns) and Valle de Cocora.

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Salento, Colombia

While we were in and out of the cafetero towns we slept at a cafe/rest stop in the middle of the highway for five nights.  They had wifi and clean bathrooms, which has a huge appeal these days.  We spent a day visiting the town Salento that sits just above the Valle de Cocora.  Later that evening a local shared invaluable information about a road behind his restaurant that would take us from Salento to a town called Toche.  The drive between the two towns is untouched and has an exuberant amount of Cocora wax palm trees, the tallest palm trees in the world.  The touristy Valle de Cocora had nothing on the amount trees we saw on this drive, for miles it’s all one could see.  It would take us about a week to go thirty-five miles through this portion of the Andes Mountains over a gravel road, the views are out of this world.  We went camping for a night in the touristy portion of Valle de Cocora and hiked through it the next day.

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Our beautiful drive through farms, mountains and the Cocora palms
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Colombian jungle
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You can not beat a drive like this

The next morning we stocked up on food, water and essentials for a new adventure to find where all the real wax palms lived.  The road was not in our GPS so really we were just going off of what this stranger told us almost blindly.  We were with our friends and traveling as two vehicles feels safer and gave us all the confidence to do it.    The first day we got a late start and probably only made it seven miles where we found some space off the side of the road to camp for the night.  We parked over tons of wood, made a huge fire after dinner and tried to come up with ghost stories.  It was pitch black out, no one around for miles and then in the trees behind a vehicle we heard a woman’s voice.  Everyone jumped and we all turned on our bright LED lights, Christian of course grabbed the machete.  I told them “I know I heard it from inside their camper.”  So Bernardo took an axe and went in to investigate.  “AHHHH, I mean Oh it’s the bluetooth speaker turning off.”  The ghost stories seized right there.

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Rickety-shoddy bridges make me nervous

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Local Colombian Farmer explaining who knows what

We all got up pretty early the next morning so we could make the long trek to reach this minute town called Toche.  When we arrived we asked the local store attendant where we could camp and sleep for the night.  He invited us to stay on to his farm that was next to a river.  It was perfect for us, other than when he wakes up for work he blasts dance music at 5:30am like his is dj’ing for a wedding.  The guys went trout fishing in the river and chased after the farmer’s chickens with a bow and arrow around the farm.  It couldn’t have been more relaxing, so we stayed for three nights.  Relaxing eventually gets one restless so we figured lets head up to the Volcano and check out the hot springs here.  The four of us piled into The Globe Trol up a mountain and over the worst road ever we went.  We spent the day hiking and after we tried to relax with a dip into an odd concrete thermal pool off the side of the road.   The goal is to always make it to camp before sunset, it was about that time.  Sunset was on our heels so we piled back into The Globetrol and down the gravel road we bounced until I asked Christian to pull over.  I thought our friend’s dog was acting weird and possibly needed to go to the bathroom.  We hopped back into the van, immediately Christian noticed the check engine light was on and the oil pressure dropped to nothing.  He ripped the keys out of the ignition parked us in the middle of a one lane road on a mountain.  Our oil pan had met a piercing rock and every drop of oil lead to a trail up the road to the culprit.

We were stuck; miles from the country’s smallest town, in the dark and blocking the road.  Christian waited hours for the engine and oil pan to cool before he tried to repair it enough for us to make it to the closest farm.   The plan was Christian was going to try and seal the oil pan with silicone and put our old oil that we just so happened to be lugging around with us, back into the van.  Then he could drive the van just to the closest farm and park it for the night to wait for morning and make a new plan.  Krystina stayed with Christian in case he needed any help with speaking spanish to a nearby neighbor. The father of the family took Bernardo and myself on his tiny motorcycle back to their vehicle parked at the farm near the town.  Bernardo and I were going to brake down camp by the river in the dark and bring their camper up to where The Globe Trol was.  This all played out until we woke up the next morning and Krystina and Bernardo had a flat, so we had another farmland repair on the spot.  The silicone held up throughout the night, the guys fixed the flat and off we went.  If Christian would have waited another ten seconds to turn off the vehicle, our engine would have seized up and it would have been the end of this adventure.

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Through the Valle de Cocora
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No one was injured during this bright idea
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The Globe Trol makes it to South America!

We arrived to Cartagena, Colombia, South America the same night that The Globe Trol did.  The very next morning we started the grueling task of retrieving our vehicle from the port.  Mounds of paperwork and back and forth in taxis all over this city, two eight hour days later Christian is at the container with his hard hat on and watching the doors open to find our beloved rolling home in one piece.

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We spent the next few days hanging out in the boiling hot colonial city of Cartagena, it was more perfect than I imagined.  If this was any indication of what Colombia was going to be like, we were going to have the time of our lives exploring the rest of the country.  On our way out of the city we get pulled over right away, which is nothing new to us.  They pull us over to let me know my bikini is on the hood of the car and about to blow away.  Whoops, I told them I was air drying it.

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Our next destination was Medellin and it was going to take couple of looooong driving days to get there.  We found a cool campground outside of the city high up in the mountains that overlooked the valley where Medellin sat.  We stayed there for over two weeks relearning a new slimmer budget due to the insane cost that it takes to ship yourselves and the vehicle from Panama to Colombia.  Outside the cost of camping which was extremely low we budgeted out our daily allowance to $12 for the two of us.  So each day we would come up with a strict grocery list and walk over to the market and only pick up three meals worth at a time.  By the end of the two weeks we saved a few dollars to take the bus to the national park nearby and ride the gondola down to the city for sightseeing, pictures, gardens, the center plaza and street food.  A few days later our friends that we met in Guatemala, Krystina and Bernardo (bkexplore) came to the campground and we traveled the rest of Colombia with them for about a month and a half.  At night up at the campground where we had wifi we would pull out netflix (thanks to my brother for sharing his acct) and watch Narcos season 2.  I mean we were there and its kind of like the city’s history.

Just a couple hours away from Medellin is a majestic lake called Guatape with a colorful quaint town.  We boon-docked here for a few days, made cute dinners together and we even made chocolate chip cookies out of the dutch oven.  It shocked me how perfect they came out.

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Cafeteros (coffee plantation towns) where next on the Pan-Americana road going south.  Home to hundreds of coffee plantations set in the Andean Mountains and in the middle of Colombia.  Coffee is one of the top three things that I love second only to red wine and chocolate.   I was stoked to go out for a tour and drink the best coffee on the planet.  On our way there we were going to stop at some thermals, it just so happened to be Colombian Valentines day so the thermals were packed and we were not going to be able to camp there for the night.  Instead on the way we saw a family off the side of the road near a river and with our tight budget we asked if we could park and camp next to them.  They were happy to have us and we drove onto their land and found ourselves in the muddiest place on earth and surrounded in cow meadow muffins.  The next morning they took us on a tour of their property on the other side of the river where I experienced my first mini jungle tour.  We bathed in the ice river that we camped next to and overall enjoyed ourselves for free in this mud-hole with the sweetest family.

Just before the coffee plantations was the Valley Cocora where the tallest palm trees in the world live.  It’s a little touristy but worth the visit, it also had a sweet little town called Salento outside of it.  Stay Tuned for the next chapter in Colombia, it only gets better.

San Blas Islands, Y’all.

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Birthday dance party on a Boat!

(I’m sharing a ton of pictures from this trip, don’t miss out)

One can drive from Alaska/Canada all the way to the most southern tip of South America along the Pan American Highway all for one minor interruption called the Darien Gap in Panama.  It’s a deep forested jungle separating Panama, Central America from Colombia, South America.  For us, other overlanders and all other travelers going south or coming north one has two options; fly from Panama City to Bogota, Colombia or sail a portion of the Caribbean Sea along the San Blas Islands Archipelago to reach Cartagena, Colombia.  We put our van in a container and it would take about a week for it to make it to Cartagena, now what to do with ourselves.   I could dream all I wanted to sail along perfect islands but to have the stars align in order for everything to workout; timing with our vehicle, Christian agreeing to this and it falling on my birthday was just never going to happen.

We had an insanely strict timeline for our vehicle because we shared a container with four guys from Argentina in a combi.  We dropped off our vehicles at the same time and we absolutely had to be at the port together in Cartagena to unlock and pick up The Globe Trol.  Christian and I researched how much flying out on short notice, booking hotels for six days, eating out every meal, taxis and buses to get us around because we would be waiting for our van to arrive compared to an all inclusive sailing trip.  It wasn’t a huge savings to not jump onto this once in a lifetime trip within an already great adventure.  While sweating in Panama we just had to find the perfect boat that would line up with our vehicle shipping dates, dammit.  Most people would consider me as positive and hopeful person.  I usually just know “something will workout, if not it wasn’t meant to be.”  But this time this dream was just to good to be true.  One hundred things could have gone wrong to keep us out of the water and put us on a plane.

Instead of flying we found the perfect outgoing boat with impeccable timing and for the cherry on top a magnificent group of people were grouped together.  Christian and I packed a backpack each and brought a box loaded with beers, wine and snacks.  A cab found us and we took a two hour ride out to a remote tiny village immediately after we said goodbye to the van.  We met the captain and chef at a palapa restaurant on the water and waited for the eight other travelers to arrive.  Late that night we hopped on dingys to take us out to our new boat-home for the next five days.  Christian and I had no idea what to expect and what the next week of our lives would be like, but these days we’re quite adaptable.  The next five days blow the hell out of our expectations, we kept checking in on each other to see if we were sailing through a dream or not.

That night Jari, our captain stays up all night and the next morning to sail us fifteen hours to the first island where we pay our ecotourism island fees to the Kuna Yala Island Tribe and pick up some supplies ( as in 128 beers, 7 bottles of rum, 3 bags of cookies, 4 bags of chips and any chocolate in their tienda/store they had available) The guys ran out of beer and we all ran out of rum by my birthday festivity.

Cesar, our chef whips us up some pancakes and a fruit salad while we all try to block ourselves from the intense sun that morning.  Jari tells us that we will visit two islands per day until the last day where we will sail onto open water for the last leg of the trip to get to Colombia.  We didn’t take all of these pictures, our new friends Dan and Luke shared their photos with us, thank you guys. img_3761img_3730img_3772

At our disposal we had a kayak and snorkeling gear available to us to for added exploring since there’s 365 islands here.  Sometimes we would pull up to spot in between seven small islands.  Some islands were inhabited with a one hut or a few or just a few palms.

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Chilling in our hammock on the deck

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For our second night Jari told us another boat was having a birthday party bonfire, so we all took the tiny boat out to a third island and met easily 50 other travelers either camping for a few days on the island or other sailors on a similar trip.  They had a huge cake that they shared with us and passed around.

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Christian and I talking with Luke

The following day we were brought to another small island where Cesar was going to grill up five different types of meat in a grill-hut with the most insane spread while we played volleyball and ran around the beach.

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One afternoon spent here, probably one of our favorite days
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Volleyball and a cookout on our own island
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The Meat Hut: Cesar spent two hours in here and it was about 100 degrees outside!
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our spread and lunch with the group

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Local Kunas would paddle out to our boat to sell Lobster, handmade jewelry, fabrics or weed basically anything you wanted or needed.  img_3813

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Lobster delivery
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Cesar prepping our Lobster dinner
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blowing the horn to leave the island

The next day was my birthday and our last night Island hopping, time to party.

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a perfect night

Everyone partied their butts off with us for my birthday, danced the night away on the boat, swam in the perfect temperature water and blasted music for everyone to hear.  While we were having our party a small boat pulled up with a bottle of rose champagne and asked if we would care for some?  “Are you kidding me?!  A Colombian angel wants to join our party and he is bringing my favorite birthday drink?!”  “Get the hell up here!”  So Pablito who was going to college in the U.S. along with his cousin, had perfect English with the cutest Colombian accent and the generous charm of any Colombian.  They were the perfect addition to our night.  No one held back that night, plus it was our last night to hang because the next morning and for the next 32 hours we would be out on the open water with some slight rough seas.

The next morning half of the group maybe more had their heads hanging out the back overthrowing breakfast, dinner from the night before and what was left of their dignity.  I being the most matured and the eldest on the boat was able to hold my own.  I grabbed my kindle, sunscreen and read the day away like a cool cucumber while the late twenty somethings who I had fed tons of rum the night before ralph’d away.

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This dream was coming to an end.  Soon we would have to hunt down the van in a city…

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After five dream-ful days on a sailboat we found Cartagenga, Colombia in our horizon

Panamá

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A hike up a hill in a jungle within the city, can you even believe this is what Panama City looks like?

 

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Our first night in Panama

We found free camping for our first week in Panama right on the beach.  It was hot, but there was a consistent breeze from the ocean.  A bit of rain everyday also would cool off our day and night.  Our second night in Panama we met a traveler from Argentina who helped us find someone to share a container to ship our vehicle over to South America.  This was weeks before we thought we would find someone to share a container with.  We figured if it was going to workout this quickly that we should go with the flow.  It was working out so smoothly and quickly that I started to second guess this process.  For as long as we had planned on this trip we were ready for the biggest headache yet, shipping our vehicle across the Darien Gap.  You drive your vehicle four hours from Panama City to Colon, Panama a massive port city, pray all of your paperwork is in order and kiss it goodbye.  For a week we crossed our fingers that we would reunite with The Globe Trol in Cartagena, Colombia, South America.

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Off to the end of the road on the North American continent

So if we only had two weeks before leaving North America we should probably drive to end of the road, just to say “we did it!”  It was a long and kind of boring drive to get to the end, long as in six hours of nada.  Yaviza is a dinky town where the Pan-American Highway ends and turns into a scary jungle by foot.  Very few people on this planet have attempted to reach Colombia this way and even fewer have lived to tell the story.  We choose the path that was a road and a few have traveled for a picture next to a sign.  After this tiny side trip we headed back to Panama City to start our paperwork to ship the van to Colombia, South America.  We found a free spot on a road between a soccer field and the beginning of the Panama Canal on the Pacific Ocean side.  At night from our van we could see the lights of large container ships heading towards the Miraflores Locks.  pan-8

We hopped on a city tour bus for a ride around the city and to quickly see as many Panamanian places as possible.  Top of our list was the Panama Canal Locks, the city and old town.  I dedicate this portion of my trip to my dad and my brother…The Panama Canal. From the point where you see the barges lining up until the third set of locks releases the barge is about forty minuets.

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barges lining up, at the bottom of the picture is the one of three locks
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and down she goes
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the second one arrives

You can see these tiny little locomotives pulling the barge by chain towards the first set of locks.

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and she gone

There’s two lanes here and the first orange ship is released beyond the third lock wall after forty mins and off to the Pacific Ocean.

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sinking, this part of the process only took 8 Mins

This is the second ship we watch come through and it drops the water level as fast as eight minuets.  This was a much large vessel than the first one we saw come through and I’d bet that the sides were within inches of these walls.  So impressive.

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mucho bananas, Chaquita

At the tail end of this vessel was a stack of about 58 trailers of Chaquita Bananas.  That’s a lot of bananas!

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like a glove
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Panama City

Looks pretty doesn’t it, worst traffic EVER.  One mile took us almost three hours.  It was extremely time consuming to get anywhere after 2pm and frustrating when we were trying to get our vehicle inspected, and millions of copies made to ship it  over the Darien Gap.

 

The wild Animal side of Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the perfect country to find oodles of animals.  Whether we were camping on the beach or deep in the jungle we would hear or see wild animals all around us.  Only once did a raccoon try to rob us, but a little american boy played vigilante for us.  Costa Rica was by far the most expensive place that we have visited, it reminds me of a tropical California.  Unlimited things to see and do, but it’ll cost ya.

We went on a three hour hike with 700 dogs at Territorio de Zaguates.  I had been following this dog sanctuary on facebook for at least a year maybe longer.  It seemed crazy but I wanted to see this place for myself, how it could exist and it what state.  Our dog is in the Midwest with Chris’ brother so we were in need of some pup-time.  There’s so many dogs here its one thousand percent overwhelming.  Overall it was a decent experience, while you are going for the hike with these dogs you can’t help but wonder what’s the deal.  The owner is a vet who used to have a cow farm and started taking in strays.  People from the area drop dogs off at the gate daily.  Eventually the vet sold his cows and turned his farm land into a home for strays.  Even though he is a vet he is not aloud to treat any of the animals at his sanctuary or he will lose his licence.  In July 2016 the month that we visited they had 160 successful adoptions and almost 6000 since they have been opened in the last four years.  This was relieving to hear because for a minute while you are there you wonder if you just found the craziest dog hoarder of all time.  Here’s their facebook page if you would like to donate and help out.  Territorio de Zaguates

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It’s hard not to smile

 

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Christian was serenaded buy a local with our guitar
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white face monkey

We parked and camped on the beach near Manuel Antonio National Park for about $3 a day.  The monkeys showed up in the morning and stole everyone’s fruit, they mostly were stealing mangoes and mamoes.  To the locals these adorable creatures were a nuisance but I just couldn’t get enough of them.

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Tiny Titi Monkeys snatching up bananas very quickly
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titi monkeys, one could fit in a coffee cup

We were camping in the southwest corner of Costa Rica and while we were doing our chores you could hear this tiny squeaking like sound from a bird, bug or a chipmunk.  We sat outside the van under the awning and I could see tree branches bouncing around, so we stood still.  Yes! They started jumping out of trees and flying from one branch to the next.  There was a little girl throwing pieces of banana out in the garden and the tiny Titi monkeys were coming out of the woods for it.

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Our first Sloth sighting

We were walking about five minutes through Manuel Antonio Park and way up in this tall tree was the cutest sloth taking a nap while smiling.  How ridiculous is that guy.

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Manuel Antonio Beach

The beaches in Costa Rica are not just picture perfect, they are exactly what you imagine when you’re in the states battling terrible weather or having a bad day at the job and you have to “go to your happy place.”  The natural scenery is colorful, alive and wild.  The water is warm and all shades of blue and green.  Don’t miss out on Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica, the picture of the first sloth on down are all taken on our hike through this awesome park.  Pro-tip: bring your bathing suits on this hike, we did not because we had no clue what we were walking into.

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Momma and her infant
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the stripe down her back denotes a female sloth
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slow down
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Manuel Antonio National Park
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snack time
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Manuel Park Beach

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Until next time Costa Rica, you are amazing!

Off to the captivating Costa Rica and through the jungle by zipline.

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Driving towards the coast

We spent our first week in Costa Rica hunting for the best beaches, little did we know that the first beach we found would be the best and our favorite.  Pro-tip: Look for Hotel Playa Conchal just southwest of Playa Brasilito, drive down the beach access road until it ends and opens up in a beautiful cove.  The drive to beach was anything but dull right off the highway.  The road turned into a rugged dirt route quickly and here is where we met our first of many river crossings.  We would let the dinky cabs pass us first before diving the van into the river, all went well.

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Our first camp-spot in Costa Rica

We showed up here late Sunday afternoon which is a noob-move and we knew that.   The beach was packed until sunset, after the sun sets it completely empties for the week.  We pull up to the beach careful not to hit the soft sand and then we dug in.  As soon as we woke up the next morning we slid the sidedoor open to the water and we have the beach to ourselves.  This van has a room with a view like none other.

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Playa Conchal.  Pura Vida

My favorite moment here that sticks out in my mind is probably our third day on the beach.  Christian and I split the day by staying in the shade under our awning or dipping in the bay for a swim to cool off.  Off in the distance we see a family of four kayaking right towards us from the other side of this bay.  The mom approaches us under the awning and asks us “how much are ya’ll renting four-wheelers for?”  Christian replies very nicely “Mmm I am not sure how much they are but I think you can rent them down the beach at the hotel.”  Lovely mother of two replies “Ugh, so you’re what are doing then, just sitting here?”  She was damn right, we were just sitting and soaking up this kick-ass place while not doing a thing.  She thought quite highly of us thinking that we were running a four-wheel tour company out of our van though.

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This place is free
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Let’s never leave
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We found this awesome waterfall on the side of the road

Our drives through this country were Christian’s favorite part of Costa Rica, pull over anywhere and you are guaranteed to see at least a waterfall.

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Driving through Costa Rica

MonteVerde National Park, Costa Rica

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I was feeling brave and excited when we arrived to Monte Verde, Costa Rica.   On our PanAmerican-Highway Trip Bucket List is another box I was ready to check off, zip-lining above the Rainforest.

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Christian in the first part of the mile-series lines
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Superman over the jungle for a mile

I am a nervous wreck when it comes to heights, I get dizzy standing on a chair or using a short ladder.  I can’t even watch someone cliff-dive on TV without getting butterflies.  Zip-lining over the tree-tops is way beyond pushing my comfort zone.  Honestly I loved this, it was dreadfully marvelous.

After MonteVerde we camped down at Lake Arenal for a few days making our way around Costa Rica.  We had a lot of rain here so working our day (finding groceries and a bank) around the down pours was our only qualm here.  Two blocks from this camp spot into town was a German Bakery that sold all things delicious.

We received insider information where we could find free thermal springs right across the street from a pricey Hotel Spa.  The directions were iffy but I mean what else do we have to do, nada.  We brought nothing with us beyond a go-pro, yet again another novice move.  What’s our deal, right?  Next time…cold drinks, snacks or a cooler full of hot springs items at least.  This gem was found underneath a small highway bridge.

Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

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We took The Globe Trol on a ferry to head to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
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Islandtime in Nicaragua

We had about a week left in Nicargua before we had to be at the border to cross into Costa Rica.  Without hesistation we decide we should ferry over Lake Nicaragua and spend our last week on Ometepe Island.  Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.

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This was our first stop on the Island is located in the isthmus at Ojo de Agua.  This was/is one of my favorite places that we spent any time at.  We again had zero expections driving up the dirt road wondering what was going to be at the end, the pictures above is where we found ourselves.  We spent the whole day here swimming in the these natual fed spring pools surrounded in the jungle.  Monkeys came out for a visit when the sun was setting and pretty soon we had the place to ourselves.   The next morning we left this paradise looking for garden to spend the next few nights at.  We drove towards Volcan Manderas, the smaller of the two where we found a hippie-garden-farm.  It’s run by an ex-pat couple who have nightly family-style dinners and cocktail hour before dinner.  Thier space was beautiful and The Globe Trol was shaded by fruit trees, flowers and herbs  perfect enough for us.  They called a guy down the street and got us hooked up with a dirt bike to rent within an hour of being there.

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We rented the dirt bike for the day and took it around the entire island.  It took us over six hours to ride around both of these islands most of the way the road is dirt and in terrible shape.  We took our time and stopped several times to take in all the great views, passing countless farm animals, plantain and banana plantations and a stop for lunch halfway around the island.  We stopped for lunch at a mexican restaurant in Nicaragua owned and run by an ex-pat African.

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Hiking up the volcano towards the waterfall

The following day the hippies’ neighbor offers to take us up the smaller volcano for a waterfall hike.  It was an interesting hike, she takes us through locals yards where we are interrupting their family lunch to ask if we can pass but apparently this was her usual route.  We walk past a small coffee plantation, cocoa trees, all types of fruit trees and underneath aggitated howler monkeys.  Halfway up about an hour and a half she looses the trail and we were in someone yard again.  For about fourty-five mins we are walking back and forth through this persons land looking for a specific trail.  From this yard you could find at least eight split offs and finally we just pick one and go.  Another hour and half go by and our neighbor-guide is iffy on the trail the whole way until we find the waterfall or whats left of it.  It was wiped out by an earthquake a few weeks before and barely anything was left of it.

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one of the volcanoes on the island

We had some beautiful weather during our stay on Ometepe Island and stunning views.

Volcano Boarding down Cerro Negro ;)

 

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Our ride out to the volcano with a bunch of Irish backpackers

While we were in Leon, Nicaragua we heard there was some Volcano Boarding that could be done.  I checked YouTube for other particpants’ videos to see if this was something that I could do, if there were any survivors and if anyone had pro-tips.  Christian would have bet you that I wouldn’t do this type of activity.  After every YouTube video I’d run up to him and say something like “they go like 40-60 mph on a board down the volcano!” “People crash pretty hard, some girl went rolling the rest of the way and flew off her board!”  His response was always “yeah, I’m sure, are you sure you wanna do this?  I want to go but I’m not sure if you’re going to like it.  I don’t want to spend money on this if you’re going to get up to the top and I have to worry about you trying to walk down it instead.”  My type of fun isn’t going fast, free-falling or adrenaline-raising type of activities.  I prefer a very relaxed chill type of fun, but I figured this might be the only place in the world that I would be at where I could go down a volcano on a board.  The board is a sturdy piece of wood with a raggedy rope tied to the end for you to hang onto and underneath the board is a piece of metal and fiberglass to make it fly down the gravel-volcano.  When you are at the top and looking down it’s steep enough that you can’t see the route beneath you.

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Here’s Cerro Negro Volcan (Black Hill Volcano) 2391 feet high and last eruption was in 1999.  It goes off about every 20 years or so…

When we arrive at the top we get a briefing from our guide in his broken English, “lean back to be fast, sit-up for slow, and lean back a little bit for medium-fast.  Tap your feet to turn, use feet to stop, hold on.”  Okay sure, but I’m not going first.  I’ll go last, I need to see the ratio of wipe-outs and damage to successful completion.  I was counting how many seconds until I could see someone appear alive from the bottom, the first girl wipes out and we don’t see her for ten minutes.  Then he says ok, Next!   Thirty minutes later Christian and I are the only ones left at the top of the mountain besides a guide using his thumbs to direct boarding traffic.

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Hiking up the volcano, Christian has his board strapped to his back I hired a porter for $5.  Learned a lesson from our hike in Guatemala.

I wanted to go down before Christian so I wasn’t the very last left up there, but Christian gets the thumb first.  I’m waiting on my board, breathing heavily underneath my bandana and a swarm of bees or wasps come across the top of the hill surrounding me.  Are you freakin’ kidding me!!!!  I start scootin my butt on the board to go slow but get the hell out of the swarm.  My lane wasn’t ready, there was a girl wiped out just below me.  “Come on lady!! Hurry up, I’m gonna die up here!”  “Please, please let me go!”  I’ve never been so anxious to do something I was nervous about.  Fuck it, I’m going she better move!”  A swarm of wasps is more horrifying than this volcano boarding, I hang on and head down the volcano.  Just in time I get the thumbs up as I pass the guide.  I’m looking down ahead of me and I can’t spot Christian.  So I lean back, pick up speed and it feels like I’m literally flying on gravel.  Sit-up sit-up sit-up, slow-down slow-down slow-down aaaaaggghhhh, phew I’m good.  I’m coming up on the speed gun so I lean back to pick up speed so no one will know how slow I was going, plus now I can see the bottom.

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You can see how far the lava pooles out when active, almost a mile.  So beautiful.
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This volcano is HOT, the ground here was steaming and too hot to touch
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Christian leaned back hard for some speed right before he wiped out, tore this outfit into pieces, ripped his goggles off and the go-pro went flying.  Clocked at 63kph (40 mph)
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This is me trying to go as slow as possible, sitting straight up and trying not to fly off the board.  Clocked at a smooth-tranquillo 24kph (15mph)

I made it to the bottom of the hill in one-piece and probably the dirtiest I have ever been.  There’s dirt and gravel everywhere, we all had dirt rings around where are goggles were.  I find Christian in shambles at the bottom, I run up to him screaming “wasn’t that awesome! I wish I went faster, can you believe I was going 24kph, I’m so fast!!!”  What was your speed, what happened to you?”

Christian was banged up, missing shoes and his go-pro, bleeding from his arm, leg and face and his suit was torn into pieces.  “I was picking up some serious speed hit a bump flew off the board and rolled down about half way,” he said.  Well how fast were you?  63kph he told me.

The survivors were given a cold beer and a cookie right away and a second beer back at the hostel.

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Helloooooo Nicaragua, We had no idea you are so amazing!

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Leon, Nicaragua
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Catedral de Leon, Nicaragua

We arrived in Leon, Nicaragua with very little expectations other than our friends said it would be hot.  The heat here was no joke, it was diffilcult to move between the hours of 10:30am and 4pm.  We found a cheapish hostel to stay at and parked The Globe Trol on the street right in front of the hostel.  Christian tipped the security guard of the hostel to look over The Globe Trol for the night.  The next morning Christian found our van-haus keyed all over the two sides that the guard couldn’t see.  That’s the risk when we visit a city and park on the street.

After our nine hour drive the day before from El Salvador and two border crossings we slept-in until the room turned into a sauna.  We slowly made our way towards the central park plaza for some touristic photos.   At certain times during the day you can walk on the roof of the Catedral de Leon for $3 per person in your socks.

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Granada, Nicaragua

Our next stop was Granada a few hours south of Leon, this was a colorful colonial city that we only spent the afternoon at while on our way to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

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Butterfly Sanctuary in Nicaragua

 

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Christian takes me to see the Butterflies

I really love me some butterflies so when Christian found out that just outside of Granada there was a tiny butterfly sancturary it was on our Must Do List.  It’s doesn’t fill the gap on my bucket list where the Monarch Sanctuary in Mexico was, but I couldn’t say no to a tent full of giant colorful butterflies.

Save the Best for our Last Week in Antigua, Guatemala.

I forgot to mention that when given the oppotunity, I am a beauteous boot designer!

There’s a nifty little town outside of Antigua called Pastores and it’s a boot-lover’s heaven.  After gawking for months at all the original and unique footwear in town I had to find out where and how?  Christian and I took a skooter ride 15 mins outside of town to Pastores.  There’s no short of leather or boot shops along the main strip of this small town.  I spent the last week dreaming up of ideas on how to make my very own boot from scratch.  I complied all of my wildest boot doodles together on one dream sheet consisting of color preferences, shape, heel type, calf-height, texture, closuers, and stitching patterns.  All for a chance to make my boot-dream come true, and now my only hurdle was communicating this in spanish.  I bounced and skipped from one shop to the next trying to decide which shop I wanted to entrust this boot-dream to.  I found a pink shop that had boots  in the window that I really liked with similiar desireable features, this was the spot.  I carefully flipped through piles of different materials and leathers and then in my new spanish and dream list I tried to explain exactly how I wanted the pair of boots made.  The shoemaker took down a few notes and said see you in 7 days!  By the time I walked away from the shop I was ecstatic and found the expericence so charming.  It didn’t really matter how they turned out I just hopped that they would fit.

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For a week I would wake up excited wondering how my handmade boots were coming along.  For around $50 usd I created from scratch my very own unique boot sewn together by a small local family shop, just for me.  Too Cool!!

Finding a good pizza that fit our budget in Antigua wasn’t easy, our neighbor Ben showed us how to make an awesome homemade pizza  from scratch.  He even showed us how to save an extra few dollars by making the mozzerella at home, what?!  A few days later we learned how to make an artisianal bread in our dutch over that turned out incredible.  “Hey Ben, any homemade butter around for this insane piece of bread?”   “Yes,” he said.  “Wow, alright! Do you by chance know a guy who would want to buy our scooter and take care of all of the paperwork?” ” Yes,” Ben said “my old boss.”  And then the day before we left Antigua, Jose his old boss bought the skooter from us.  However, not before we took our last skooter ride to pick up my one-of-a-kind new boots (designed by yours truly, Jennifer Ruth).  It was slightly emotional for me, I was on my last skooter ride through a favorite town to pick up my dream boots.  I put my boots on, blushing and ready to show them off to my friends for a fiesta during our last night in Antigua.

Goodbye (for now) Fiesta

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Start the night off with some Golf, por que no?
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Meeting up with 5 other overlanding groups, swapping stories
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Josh after tequila to the face, no hands
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tequila shot in the eyes for Jenna
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Never stop dancing together
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Whiz-Bang Chicas

Bucket list: Hike a yuge Volcano in Guatemala, check.

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Volcano Acatenango reaches 13,044 feet Christian and our friends Josh and Jenna (travelamateurs) thought hiking up it would be great fun.  I had already decided that I would prefer to skip out on this great adventure, because I tend to have bad timing.  Volcano Acatenango is part of a two peak volcano, you hike up the taller one at 13,044 feet (3976m) and you look down at the very active Volcan Fuego.  It has a loose schedule of off five days and on fire for five days, the hike was set for an “on” day.  My worry was that I would do this insane hike up the volcano in all types of weather and I wouldn’t be able to see the Volcan Fuego erupting.  I love hiking but there needs to be some sort of pay off; travelamateurs.com Give me a view, cave, river, waterfall, lake or an erupting volcano next door.  The night before Josh called Christian and they had the trip all set with a local guide.  “What if I want to go?” I said.  It was go time and I got a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out).  If I didn’t go then the volcano would erupt in perfect plain sight and I would miss out on the awesome opportunity with our friends.  The next morning I put my game face and big girl pants on.

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Our guide tells us at the head of the trail that the first 45 mins are straight up and tough but the next five hours would be easier.  Jaime, our guide carried all of our food and cooked our meals for the trip up on his broken backpack tied to his back with a rope.  I was the rock-like caboose during the entire trek.  We also brought along our friend’s giant white german shepard and at first everyone was worried how he was going to do.  I had a feeling that if I could survive this quest that this fearless pup would run circles around me and he did.  Up and up we climb arriving at base camp just an hour before sunset, I would venture to say it was about 30 degrees cooler at basecamp.  We were surrounded in clouds and the wind had picked up,  Jaime points to where we should see the other volcano.  He in a hopeful attitude says “it is going to rain tonight and that’s good news because after the rain the clouds will clear and open up for a great view!”  The plan is to go to sleep early and wake up at 3:45am and hike to the summit for the sunrise and an erruption.  That night Jaime makes us some hotdog-spaghetti and beans for dinner with hot chocolate.  The weather is a wee bit intollerable at base-camp so we all retreat to our tents and inside our sleeping bags.  Off in the nearby distance we can hear and feel Volcan Fuego errupting.  The clouds open up for a breif moment and we all catch a glimpse of the volcano shooting fire into the sky and the lava river flowing down the side of the mountain.  It was too cold to peep out of the tent for longer than a split second so we try to go to sleep while hearing the fire rage out the top of the neighbor volcano and hope for better conditions in the morning.  The rain is whipping around our tents and Jaime was climbing up trees and macheting down branches to make tarpaulin from scratch for our tents to keep us all dry throughout the rainstorm.

3:45am on the dot Jaime is at our tents “Guys, Vamos!”  It’s pitch black out, cold, windy and time to finish the hike up volcanic gravel for an hour or two.  We take our headlamps and try to stay on the thin trail in the dark, two steps up and one slide down.  Eventually we make it to the summit and we can barely see ten feet in front of us, let alone the other volcano.  It’s so close we can hear and feel the rumbling but our timing just didn’t work out and the weather was a thrashing winterlike storm.  We couldn’t stand it for much longer than a few photos and Jaime said it wasn’t going to get any better.  Behind the clouds the sun was trying make an apperance, but we never got a clear shot it just lit the way down back to base-camp for us.

Here we are at the chilling summit in a monumental moment together during our last week in Antigua, Guatemala.