Posted by: Sarah | August 5, 2010


Biggest surprise of the summer? Nicaragua.

I’d heard from others who had traveled Central America before that they loved it, yet I never dreamed it would exceed my expectations the way that it did. I expected to love Guatemala, have a blast in Costa Rica, and practice my Spanish pretty much everywhere in between. As we fell into the backpacking route from one tip of Central America to the other, we heard whispers that Nicaragua was going to be the best. Costa Rica, 10 years ago, before it became so toursity, was how many described it. And yet, I was still unprepared for just how great the country was.

We spent more than 2 weeks exploring Nicaragua, and it truly did have a little bit of everything. We climbed volcanoes (and boarded down them too). We took surf lessons on the Pacific and flew to the Caribbean for some quality beach time in the Corn Islands, one of the most remote places I have ever visited. Rahul and I were both offered jobs to work at a hostel there, all living (and scuba diving) expenses covered, and I had a hard time reminding myself that I have grad school waiting for me back in the States.

We visited Granada, a picturesque colonial city, and partied in Leon, spent afternoons drinking mojitos and beachhopping. There were lightening storms, where we danced in the rain.

It’s hard to capture the essence of a country by simply describing the places that one visits while traveling, when the true magic is the people. Nicaragua reminded me of Colombia in the sense that it has not yet been ruined by tourism. Locals are friendly to visitors, but most likely won’t speak English to you immediately.  You need to work a little harder to bridge the cultural and communication differences to find common ground; in doing so, you may understand each other just a little bit more.

We met backpackers in Nicaragua from around the world who also wanted to travel off the beaten path.  I don’t think that I truly appreciated this until we went down to Costa Rica, where everything was packaged into a neat, overpriced package and catered to the American tourist. While many people appreciate the ease of traveling this way, I’m usually a little put off by it. I prefer to be spontaneous, roll with the punches, and catch a glimpse of the undiscovered secrets of a country that take a little more effort to reach. The new friends that we made from the States, Canada, Australia and Europe, the stories that we shared over Tona beers and Flor de Cana rum, made the experience even sweeter.

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