*Editors Note: This is a guest contribution from Chelsea Phillipe about her and Jason’s recent adventure to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Having procrastinated packing for our 2 month trip until the last minute, we scrambled to throw a few things in some small bags, then barely caught our connecting flights. But finally we arrived in the hot and humid Costa Rica – perfect!
The next day we received a message from a friend to join him in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Our first day we saw whales crest and enjoyed several cervezas at a secret beach requiring a difficult hike. We spent the next few days rafting the Savegre River, swimming in the ocean and watching the World Championships of Rafting on the Pacuare River.
Results after 4 events (32 mens teams, 27 womens teams):
Men: 1. Japan, 2. Czech Republic …7. USA
Women: 1. Czech, 2. Japan …7. USA
From there Jason and I headed further north to save money (Costa Rica is more expensive than the resort ski town of Jackson Hole, WY) and try our hand at being surf bums. We stayed near Playa Maderas, world famous surf beach for experts and beginners, in a nice guesthouse called the Dreamcatcher for more than two weeks. The first 8 days there it rained constantly…it is the rainy season. But eventually the sun broke thru and we began surfing – if you can call it that, maybe getting pummeled is a better description. A huge swell came in making giant waves that impressed even the locals. But we still tried and even managed to stand up a few times! We even ended up in a photo in the Nicaragua surf report!
Eventually we moved on and found ourselves at a Spanish School in La Concepcion de San Juan (Nicaragua still) following a suggestion from a friend the very morning we left. We stayed 9 days at the La Mariposa Spanish School enjoying 3 Nicaraguan meals, 4 hours of classes (just me) and volunteering in the gardens (brought the bill down!). Both Jason and I think this experience was our favorite on the trip. Jason spent up to 8 hours a day volunteering in the garden with the jardinero, Santos, who spoke just enough English to tell Jason what to dig, plant and chop down. Jason’s favorite work involved the machete, the common tool of Central America. Evenings and weekends were filled with cultural experiences in the small towns, viewing artisan shops, restaurants, volunteering with young children, or playing local pick up games of futbol, basketball and volleyball.
Meanwhile the big Nicaraguan Presidential elections were gaining International attention as Sandanista Party leader, Daniel Ortega, campaigned for his re-election. People everywhere wore his shirts, barrios proudly flew his FSLN flag (black and red) and even painted the streets. There was opposition, but they didn’t hold a candle to him. Watching the local people who received new and necessary tin roofs, chickens and sometimes cows from Ortega and their commitment to Ortega was quite the contrast to the media portrayal of Ortega in USA and Europe. It just happens Ortega wants nothing to do with the USA after the Iran Contra affair and instead is partnered with Chavez in Venezuela, Castro in Cuba, and several other South American countries.
We just happened to be in Nicaragua’s capitol city Managua for the elections. We attended a hashing event, which is an international phenomenon involving running. These groups call themselves running clubs with drinking problems. You meet up at a members house, and run a course marked on the road by droppings of flour, then regroup at the house to drink initiation beers, meet new friends, sing silly drinking songs and eat dinner. That night Daniel Ortega swept the elections and people celebrated in the streets till morning. Jason and a few others watched and mingled till 3am feeling the excitement!
We spent a few days touring the bigger Nicaraguan cities of Leon and Granada – where I utilized my new and improved Spanish speaking skills at a bank when the ATM charged my account money, but didn’t actually give me any! 30 minutes of Spanish speaking with a woman from the bank and 2 weeks later the money was back in my account…and my head hurt.
With only a few weeks left Jason and I spent a few days on Ometepe Island which consists of 2 volcanic islands connected by a small isthmus in Lake Nicaragua. The lake housed so many fresh water sharks the fishermen were scared to put their feet in the water. Now they estimate only a few are left after several years of China finning the sharks for their famous shark fin soup.
Motivated, we returned to the ocean for more surfing and did, well, better. We also met a couple raft guides from Idaho, one of which has moved to Jackson for the winter…small world!
Returning to Costa Rica by bus proved slow due to the Nicaragua border patrol going so far as to take part of the bus apart looking for drugs, money, or a bribe from the driver to let us go thru. Supposedly several of the confiscated vehicles had millions of dollars in cash or drugs hidden inside as they transported both between Columbia and Honduras. Eventually we made it to the small Tico (what Costa Ricans call themselves) town of La Virgen to visit a rafting friend of Jason’s – Chole. We spent a couple days rafting and enjoying home cooked meals with his family. I enjoyed impromptu Spanish lessons, and both Chole and Jason jumped off the 30 foot Pozo Azul waterfall. I of course couldn’t because I had to take the photos! At the small hotel we stayed at Jason and I enjoyed our first hot showers in Central America – until the power blew and created an electrical fire amongst the wires…needless to say, no more hot showers.
Thanksgiving was spent with good friends from the states, Landon and Nicki, who now live and work in Costa Rica and Landon’s family. We enjoyed chicken instead of turkey, and all the regular staples, and of course Jason made his, now famous, apple pie.
The last 5 days Jason and I spent with Landon’s family (Mom, Sister, Brother, Aunt and 2 Cousins) as we took them to Manuel Antonio for rafting, sea kayaking, snorkeling, touring the National Park and of course swimming in the ocean. Guiding people thru a new country for their first time leaving the USA was a wonderful reminder of what the first time abroad is like. We enjoyed it all very much.
More pictures are on Facebook if you are still bored!