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Malaysia

Langkawi, Malaysia

 

Langkawi, Malaysia was once a quiet fishing and farming island that has blossomed into quite the vacation paradise! The government declared Langkawi duty free of tax and they set up a development committee to help draw attention in hopes to transform the island for tourism. Every bit must have helped cause now Langkawi is named The Princess Jewel of South East Asia!

Langkawi can be done on any type of budget. In general I find it a hair more expensive then neighboring Thailand but still very affordable. But due to it being a duty free island the booze is much cheaper then the other places I visited in Malaysia.

The best way to explore Langkawi is by scooter. You can get a first hand look at all of the amazing wildlife, beaches and nature via scooter. You can pick on up in town from 30-55 ringgit per day. ($7-$12) Make sure you download the offline map Maps.me! It is brilliant for traveling without a sim and it has all of the beaches, lookouts and waterfalls on the map!

Langkawi has something to offer on every budget but for me and my long time travel plan, I chose the budget options. This time I booked a few nights at the Tubotel. As far as hostels in Langkawi go it doesn’t get any better then this place!

The price was about $11 per night (50 ringgit) and that includes one of the best hostel breakfasts I have had. You get a choice between 4 different options that change daily. The views from the hostel and the sun sets are also amazing!

Pantai Cenang Beach is as amazing as I remembered it but the town is now just a dust cloud of construction and traffic. The last time I was here the Main Street was full of local shops and tiki bars with cheap cocktails. But those small tiki bars have been long torn down and replaces with hotels and resorts. I didn’t even recognize the place! But if you stay out of the town and plan to explore the island on your own you are in for a treat!

Pretty much everything else is exactly where I left it three years ago. The Island has many waterfalls worth visiting depending on the time of year and amount of rain. The Durian Perangin falls is always a good place to start!

My first day on the island I got myself a scooter and took a lap around the island. It takes about an hour and a half to make the loop around. One thing that stuck out in my memory from last time was this amazing little Hindu temple in the middle of the jungle so that was my first plan. To find this temple.

An hour of wandering around later and just as bright and beautiful as ever I found it! I pulled up and parked the scooter. There were a hand full of people here setting up for a wedding. Cars and scooters of people pulling up with trays of sweets and gifts. I just sat outside of the fence and watched.

An Indian man in traditional attire walked past me and invited me inside. I thanked him and continued to watch from the side lines. Beautiful women dressed in bright colors, gold jewelry barefoot walking into the temple. Before the ceremony began a woman from the wedding walked outside of the temple and grabbed me by the hand. She walked me inside of the temple to the very front row! In front of the friends and family. A girl came to me with a pot full of red dye. She marked my forehead and told me she was glad that I could make it. As if I was meant to be there.

I stayed for the remainder of the ceremony. They were all so happy that I could join them and be a part of it. It was an amazing experience! Afterwards I was invited to dinner and the reception the following day. Great people!

 

 

Now let’s talk about a little lesson in living the dream. Say you’re in a place like Langkawi and you want to completely live the dream. But you don’t want to pay for it. Understandable. This is what I do.

1. Get yourself a smokin hot french girl.

(Photo-The Andaman Resort)

2. Go to the fanciest resort that you can find on the map.

(Photo-The Andaman)

3. Go to said resort and ask to see the manager.

(Photo-Tanjung Rhu Resort)

4. Tell the manager how you and your hot French girlfriend plan to get married and you would like to bring all of your friends and family to stay at their resort. And ask for a tour.

(Photo-The Four Seasons)

5. If the manager is doing half their job he or she will do as they have done for me. A complete tour of the property along with some free appetizers at the restaurant and access to the beach and pool for the afternoon while we waited for our lunch. So that we could “get a feel for things.”

(Photo-The Four Seasons)

That little fib will get you 8 hours of entertainment like a King! We spent this day at the Four Seasons wandering this empty perfect beach. Swimming pools and lounge chairs for the using and had a 5 star meal all for about $25! If that’s not livin the dream I don’t know what is!

Between the Four Seasons, The Tanjung Rhu and the Andaman, I would have to say the service and experience crashing the Four Seasons was definitely the best. (As it should be for a room starting at $800 per night!) But the food and cocktail prices at the Andaman were number one by far! We were having mixed drinks here for the same price as they are in town at the local bars!

Tanjung Rhu is also the name of the area where some of these resorts are. There is a really good public beach here as well. And do your self a favor a skip Black Sand beach. It is not even worth the 30 minutes of circles you will be driving to try to find it. I have been there twice now and both times I wondered why I even went.

 

Getting to and from-

You can fly into Langkawi or if traveling by land as I was you can arrange a boat from Penang. That boat was full so I took the free ferry to the mainland and took a bus north to Kuala Kedah. From there I took the 1 hour 45 min ferry boat to Langkawi. This is by far the cheapest way. I think I saved about $20 going this route and it was only an extra hour.

From Langkawi I took the ferry boat to Koh Lipe which is not that long of a trip for the nearly $30 I paid but it was the only way. The also take your passport in Malaysia and do not give it back to you until it is stamped in Thailand. So prepare for an hour of shitting your pants thinking your passport is not going to come back. It will. And also be sure if you are traveling to Koh Lipe to get a bottle of your favorite booze at the Duty Free port in Langkawi. Koh Lipe is expensive!

Where to stay-

If youre on a budget you can find cheaper places in the town but for me Tubotel was as good as it gets for $11 per night including a great breakfast and AC. They also have a cheap laundry service if you’re in need of clean clothes.

Cuba Travel

Havana, Cuba

-When I asked travelers previously what they thought of Cuba the story was usually the same. The beaches are great, the food is terrible, the people are amazing and the rum is almost free..-

The second that you land in Cuba and step a foot into the customs line you feel like you have been transported into the 50s. Looking around at the dark cream walls with burgundy accent colors. Airport employees walk past with uniforms that look like they haven’t changed style in 50 years either. If you come from the states, Immigration will see your US passport and ask you if you would like them to stamp your passport. A lot of people think that because Obama visited Cuba that it’s open for travel. That is definitely not the case. You may travel to Cuba from the US now and not be considered a spy as you were previously if you have proper plans and documents. You can book a tour through an agency for thousands of dollars or you can go on the account that you are volunteering. If not you have to be there on educational purposes only. No wandering beaches and exploring the islands of Cuba. Wellllll that wasn’t going to work for me. The only other loop hole is to fly from Canada or Cancun. Which was my choice… Before leaving cancun I had a 2 hour delay. I messaged a friend that was in Havana at the airport on his way back and told him I had a two hour delay. He sent me this photo of Obama in Air Force One preparing for takeoff.

After exiting the airport I hired a cabby to take me to Old Havana in a 1955 Cadillac. The first thing that I learned is in Cuba unless you have a large travel budget you don’t stay in a hotel. You sleep in a Casa. A house that is usually divided into private rooms with a bathroom that you can rent for an average of $20-$35. The owner of the house sometimes sells beers and may offer to cook you meals for a small fee. After finding a Casa (at 11pm) we dropped off our bags and walked next door to a small one table restaurant where a Cuba gent was cleaning up. He offered to make us chicken and rice for dinner. After two hours of being in Havana I was sitting at a table with three girls traveling Cuba, me, the older gentlemen that owned the small resultant, his much younger women, the owner of the Casa, and a few security guys from a hotel down the street drinking rum talking about the history and the future of Cuba as if we knew each other for years! I was amazed at how quickly I was welcomed by the Cuban people.

It was a long night of talking history and discussing the new beginnings in the making. For a guy like myself, I have traveled all over the world. I have seen a lot of things, so it really does take a lot to get me worked up about something. But when I woke up and walked out of the Casa, I couldn’t believe where I was. Streets filled with Cuban people on foot walking around. Fruit and vegetable carts on the corner. I walked the streets as 50s Chevy Bel Airs and Ford Thunderbirds passed me.

I have lots of tattoos, have a beard, and walked the streets in a straw hat from Guatemala. It was no secret that I was not from Cuba. But the local people would walk up to me and ask me where I am from. After I said the USA they would shake my had. I had complete strangers give me hugs. One guy told me his president is no good. My president is very good. Obama coming to Cuba has given these people hope they haven’t had in many years! The Cuban people have had it pretty rough compared to today’s standard of living. One friend of mine I met in Havana told me that he has seen more change in Cuba in the last 7 months then his people have seen in the last 57 years! They just got access to Internet! It’s an interesting system. You walk to a park and pay a guy $3. He gives you a pull tab like a lottery ticket. One tab has your internet link and other has the password. And that will buy you one hour of Internet. Keeping in mind this is in a country where the basic salary is $30 USD per month.

I met another guy sitting on the river walk that asked me if he could practice his English with new. I was on the verge of passing out from not eating all day and had no water in the 100 degree heat but no problem I told him. Alex was his name and his English was about as terrible as my Spanish but we sat on the side of that River for over an hour. He told me that he worked at the oil refinery along the river in the distance. It was his day off so he takes the bus to the city to come to this place and get peace. He told me that he makes $30 per month and that has to feed himself and both of his retired parents and his younger siblings. He said that he will take a bit of his pay from time to time and buy a book. He has to read it very quickly because he then has to sell it on the black market to get the money back to buy food. He does the same with CDs. Alex decided two years ago that he wanted to learn English. So he bought a dictionary and for two years he taught himself English. Pretty impressive. He told me that the working man in Cuba is poor. And that the teachers might only make $50 a month and the doctor can make $60. But the cab driver on the other hand is rich! They can make a months salary of the average man multiple times in one day!

You must have a permit to work in tourism. Alex told me that he had been waiting for years in line for that permit. The truth is he will probably never get that dream server job he wants because the cards aren’t dealt that way now in Cuba. But we can both hope things will change for the people!

The people of Cuba are great. The culture is amazing! The music is everywhere. But the food really is terrible. They lack options, spices and flavor. So if you take one thing from this, let me tell you where to eat!

My first day in Havana I walked a few blocks from the Casa looking for food and ended up at Sloppy Joes. (Not to be confused with the Sloppy Joes in Key West) The bar that the Los Angeles Times called “One of the most famous bars of all time!” The bar opened in the 30s by immigrant Jose Garcia. During prohibition American tourists would come to Havana for the night life, gambling and the booze they couldn’t get in the states. It was visited by everyone from John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra. After the revolution in 1959 and the embargo from the United States denied US travelers. Sloppy Joes shut down soon after.. After a long renovation they recently reopened the bar back to its old glory!

 (Photographer unknown)

Bodeguita del Medio opened its doors in 1942. The walls are covered with signatures and quotes from people ever since. Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda and Ernest Hemingway all frequented the Bodeguita Del Medio. Hemingway wrote on the wall “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” They make claim to have invented the Mojito in this building in the 1942 soon after they opened..

La Floridita- It opened in 1817 with the name “La Piña de Plata”. (The Silver Pineapple) Over 100 years later, tourists from North America started frequenting the bar and convinced the owner to change the name to La Florida, which over time is now La Floridita. In 1914, an immigrant by the name of Constantino began tending bar at La Floridita and by 1918 he owned the bar. Constante as they call him was credited in the early 30s for inventing the frozen daiquiri. The bar became a school of highly skilled bartenders specializing in cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum. Today the traditions are still preserved by the disciples of this Mr. Constante. The bar was also frequented in the 1930’s by Ernest Hemingway who occupied a hotel room near by for years..

So you can possibly pay visit to the home of the sloppy joe, the mojito and the daquri all in one day!

My first night in Havana I asked what was a must see. An older gentlemen told me I must ride in a 57 Chevy, dance the tango and smoke a Cuban cigar. Pay a visit to the house of rum and Cuban tobacco pictured below.

I had plans to come to Havana no matter what while traveling this year. But when I was in Nicaragua I caught wind of the Rolling Stones coming to Cuba to play a free show! I actually skipped a large part of the Yucatan in Mexico just to make it for this concert. This was set to be the biggest concert in Cuba since the Revolution in 59! They denied the biggest acts in the world such as the Beetles and Elvis and the rest of the invasion of Rock and Roll.

I read about history every day. I write about it as often as I can but to see it happen in front of my eyes was something else. Forget about witnessing history for a second. To see the look on these peoples faces. No matter if they were 15 or 50 to be with them to see the first concert of their lives was pretty cool. The Rolling Stones have played a million shows but I promise never one like this. One show, 5 hunnnnndred thousand people, and not one single fight, drunk guy sleeping on the grass and probably the first Rolling Stones concert in history where there was no alcohol or pot smoke in the air. Only Cuban cigars. I’m just glad to see Keith Richards is 153 years old and still had girls pulling their hair out..

The following day I took a city tour on a double decker bus around Havana. In previous days I could see whenever I would talk about the government people seemed to get a bit uncomfortable. No one wants to talk much about old history. I saw this first hand on the city tour. I thought they would take me to sights that Che Guavara made grand speeches and show me places where Batista was overthrown. I saw no such thing on the city tour. They told me where the hospital and supermarkets were. I did get a look at the monument of Che and Fidel and saw the newly opened US embassy though!

Old Havana is definitely worth a visit. You can walk from the capital through Central Park to La Floridita to the walking street. Lots of little shops and restaurants. If you see a churro cart do yourself a favor and stop..
At the end near the river is the fort and Old Havana. People selling amazing political posters and books. Some art and old trinkets.

After a few days of wandering Havana I hired a cab to take me for the two and a half hour drive down the coast of Cuba to the beach town of Varadero.

Varadero is a nice change of pace from Havana. People are a bit more pleasant and much less pushy as they are in Havana. Either way the Cuban people are expressly welcoming and helpful! I was walking down the streets of Varadero looking for a Casa to rest my head. A women stopped me and told me that her place was full. She then called every friend she had for nearly 25 minutes until she found me a place to stay. I told her I was from the United States and she gave me a hug and told me welcome!

I have seen beaches in North and South America as well as Asia and I have to believe the beaches of Cuba will give the best beaches anywhere a run for their money! The water was perfect!

If you have plans to travel to Cuba there are a few things you should know. ATM machines are few and far between and your credit or debit card doesn’t work in cuba. You need to bring cash! Also at this moment US dollars have a bad exchange rate. The Euro is better and the Mexican peso is much better then the other currency’s. Also while in Cuba do not exchange money in the streets. You are garonteed to get taken advantage of. Go to the bank, take a number, wait in line and exchange your money there. Or go to a deca deca currency exchange office. I got a better rate here. Last thing to know about currency in cuba. There is two money system so. One is meant for tourists (CUC), and the other for local people. (Peso) The CUC is equivalent to USD. 1=1. The local peso is not really worth the money it is printed on but you may revive some of this in change from street vendors. It used to be illegal to have local money or for them to have tourist money but I don’t think anyone seems to care any more.

 (photo-www.bu.edu)

So a bit of history of Cuba.. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara lead the revolution. It took from 1953-1959 to overthrow Cuban government and president Batista to a revolutionary socialist state. Batista antagonized the population by forming lucrative links to organized crime and allowing American companies to dominate the Cuban economy. The people also only had very limited sources for clean drinking water. That was the first promise made by Castro to the people. The promise of clean drinking water.

Fidel and brother Raul once tried to overthrow the government and were imprisoned. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His brother Raul got a 13 year sentence. However in 1955 under broad political pressure Batista freed all political prisoners in Cuba. Soon after the brothers met other exiles in Mexico to prepare the overthrow of Batistas government. In Mexico young lawyer Fidel met a young Argentinian doctor by the name of Che Guevara. They had lunch in Holbox, Mexico (where I began writing this post) and then sailed to Cuba to fight the present government and start the revolution.

Soon after the United States placed an embargo on Cuba weakening the government. Batista lost support from most Cuban people. Either to join the revolution or distance themselves. Support for Batista was mainly from US businessmen and the Mafia. After the embargo the Cuban Air Force couldn’t get parts to repair planes. Fidel with a group of men sometimes as fewer then 200 took on the Cuban military and police force of over 37,000 people and almost every time there was a military strike, they had to retreat. Once the government sent 12,000 soldiers and they were defeated by Fidel’s men. Once they took on a 500 men battalion. The revolution captured 240 men and only lost three of their own! After words of all the defeat Batista panicked and took flight for the Dominican Republic.

Fidel soon came from the mountains to the capital and appointed the new president.

Over 75% of the best land in Cuba was owned by US companies. One of the first policies of the newly formed Cuban revolution was eliminating illiteracy and the second being land reforms.

In 1959 all land and property owned by upper and middle class people was nationalized. Basically if you lived in Cuba and you lived in an apartment complex, you now own your apartment. It’s your house now. The farms owned by the wealthy companies from the states were taken over by the government.

Eisenhower froze all assets of Cubans on US soil and tightened the embargo. The American Embargo against Cuba is the longest lasting single foreign policy in American history!


During the first decade of Castro in power they improved rights for black Cubans, women, better health care, better housing, medical facilities and education. By the end of the 60s all children were reviving education. Previous to 1959 less then 40% of children in Cuba were educated.

Without getting any more political about the history of Cuba, read about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis.

Where to stay- 

In Havana stay at Casa Idania Obispo! Obispo No. 517 email-idaniaobispo@gmail.com Great location! Rooftop patio. Near restaurants and old Havana. $30 per night.

In Veradero most of the casas are very nice! Full apartments with bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom for $30-$35 per night.

What to eat-

In Havana pizza at Don Saluatore. Owner is Italian from NYC. Best pizza in Cuba!

Sloppy Joes has a good sloppy joe sandwich.

Cafe Paris has a good ropa viejo.

Getting to and from-

I had lots of problems booking flight for Cuba. So I went to Savanah travel agency and they booked flight for me from Cancun to Cuba with three days notice for $260. Make sure that includes your entrance and exit taxes. Also be sure you do not get your passport stamped if you are from the states!

(Black and white photos-photographer unknown)

Mexico

Bacalar, Mexico

The Lagoon of Seven Colors as they call it. This place is unbelievable! This tropical paradise is actually a lagoon 50 miles long and far from the ocean shore.

During the first stages of Piracy in 15th century Bacalar, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres were targets for Pirate raids. During the second stages of piracy of the 16th century they set up hideouts here for better attacks on larger towns for greater plunder.

This was also during the time of the slave trade as well as the coffee, cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations. After Britain gained power of present day Belize, with this trade agreement England, France and holland gained entry to the American market.

  
In 1670 “The treaty of America” was signed between Spain and England and from that day forward they decided to combat piracy. Now I am one of the only ones left…

 

I only had two days to spend in Bacalar because I was on the fast track to Cuba for the Rolling Stones concert but I wish I could have gave a few more nights to this beautiful lagoon. The food was very cheep. Not many people spoke English, the sun was hot and the water was cool. Just how I like my Mexico journeys to be.. If you have time check out the water park/swimming area. There is also a reserve near by.

 (View from the hostel)


Where to stay-

I stayed one night at the Posada Lulu La Bruja. A newer hostel owned by a really nice French guy. Vegan food, yoga, very quiet place to relax for a night or two on the lagoon. Free fruit and coffee for breakfast. Good beds, AC -180 peso per night ($10)

Where to eat-

Pizzeria Bertilla has the best pizza in town. Authentic Italian for a very nice price!

Kai Pez is a nice restaurant within walking distance with water side dining. I had 4 tacos, nachos and 4 beers for $9 us.

Getting here and away-

From Belize- I took the boat from Caye Caulker to San Pedro for Immigration. Then to the Port of Chetumal, Mexico. From there you can negotiate a taxi to Bacalar for 200-300 pesos. It’s a 30 minute cab ride.

To Tulum- The bus terminal is on the south side of the town on the corner of Calle 30 and Calle 19 Libramiento. The ADO bus is the best. It wil have you to Tulum in 3 hours.

Guatemala

Semuc Champey- Lanquin, Guatemala

There are two reasons why you are going to ever go to Lanquin, Guatemala..  The first reason is to visit Semuc Champey and the second reason is to swim in this pool!

The Zephyr Lodge is a well oiled machine. When you arrive you are greeted with a free beer. If you stay here 3 nights, the 4th is free! The 5th day you have happy hour drink prices all day.

Dorm rooms, private rooms, tours, two bars and a full menu of food. Zephyr is a one stop shop for all of your needs in Lanquin. Or is it?

They have a tab system that is a brilliant way to take the money from your pocket and put it into theirs. It took me a couple days to realize why they give you free nights and cheaper booze for more stay. Because your second night there is spent sober planing for a tour the following morning and you start to notice the spiders as big as your hand and the cockroaches all over the rooms. (Keeping in mind that you are in the jungle and bugs definitely do happen. Big ones!) But I have been in rainforests in Thailand, Laos, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, jungles in Panama, Peru, and the Amazon jungle and never saw a single roach!) You begin to see that this place is just someone’s piggy bank. It was never geared towards your comfort. It’s just an unbelievably awesome pool in the jungle surrounded by lots of tricks to get you to buy overpriced drinks and spend money. Free beer when you get there? To get you to buy 6 more beers. 4th night is free? To get you to buy $35 of food and more booze. 5th day happy hour? Turns into a 6th day hung over. If the place was nice and comfortable they wouldn’t have to trick you to stay longer.

(If you could sleep outside in a tent this place would be paradise!)

Now if I could do it all again, I would stay at the newly built hostel on the next hill over called The Oasis. It will soon be 6 new bungalows with river access and you can walk to Zephyr for a day of pool drinking and lunch. (I only wrote about the negatives because if someone would have warned me my Lanquin trip would have been much better!) Now to the good stuff…

After an night of boozin and a day of laying by the pool you can book your Semuc Champey tour. Your morning will start with a 45 minute drive through the jungle in a 50s lifted Dodge monster truck. When you enter the park you will be greeted at 10am by a few local kids introducing them selves and trying to sell you beer.

After locking up your goods in a lock box you enter a cave on the side of a mountain! You will light a candle and walk with your shoes on through an underground river for a couple hundred feet until you are neck deep! Walking and swimming through the river wile keeping candle light above water but it was one of the craziest things I have ever done! Repelling up waterfalls with a candle in your mouth. It was all so wild! After exploring for a bit we reached a cliff with a small pool at the bottom. People climbing the walls of the cave to jump in!

After exiting the cavern we did some rope swinging into the river and then grabbed some tubes and floated down the river wile the local kids follow you on tubes with a cooler of beer for sale. They keep a running tab for everyone wile remembering the names in their head! Then those with the sand to give it a try jumped off a 30 foot bridge into the river.

It was time for more brews and lunch. A Mayan woman set up a buffet style barbecue on the side of the road for us and the little boys did their best to talk us into drinking 2 beers at a time. The girls sell home made chocolate. Pretty good actually! After that we hiked up the side of one of the mountings to get the view I came here for! Semuc Champey..

It’s a system of limestone pools along the river that have every shade of emerald water you could imagine!

Fish swimming around your feet and the water is literally the perfect temperature.

Such a peaceful place..

After an 8 hour day of adventure you can still make it back to the hostel in time for a game of strip Jenga!

A little recent history about the village of Semuc Champey. (Told to my by my guide) The owner of the land of Semuc Champey for many years lined his pockets with cash without doing anything to help of his local village. So they basically overthrough him, kicked him out of the village and took over Samuc Champey. He and his family fled to Guatemala City. The money earned by the park is now used to do repairs the the park, pave roads, put more villagers to work and build schools for the children. I don’t know if it’s all true but I like that story..

Where to stay-

The Oasis- $12 dorm beds, river access, clean

Getting there and away-

-Panahachel to from Lanquin has a direct shuttle service for 200 quetzal that takes between 9-11 hours. Lots of dirt and gravel roads.

-Flores, there is a shuttle service with two prices- 130 or 150 if you prefer AC. It takes 8 hours. I would pay the extra buck or two. When you get to the lowlands it is extremely hot!

Good luck!

Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

It’s official El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world. After a few days of traveling from Nicaragua through Honduras and spending a day in El Salvador I was about an hour from San Salvador, the worlds most homicidal city. I thought it didn’t look so bad at all actually kinda beautiful in the hills and along the sea side. But apparently the gangs the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 are the main gangs averaging 18 murders per day in El Salvador.

 (photo insightcrime.org)

Now the gangs are coming apart at the seams and they are not only at war with police and each other but internal wars within the gangs. The conflicts and blood are spilling over into Honduras and Guatemala. Most of them are covered from head to toe with tattoos including their faces. Apparently I have some of the same styles and tattoos on the same places as one gang and the other will murder you if you have an “M” tattooed on you. So I thought traveling through this region may not be the best idea. But a few days and a few busses later and I wandered through the most of the crazy parts and ended up in Antigua, Guatemala.

This place is unbelievable! The culture that I have been lacking all of Central America with great food and all of the history that you can handle! Surrounded by volcanos there are 360 degrees of photo opportunities in Antigua.

The Kingdom of Guatemala once was made up of current day Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Capitol of the Kingdom of Guatemala was destroyed by earthquakes or abandoned a few times.

Antigua was named the Capitol in 1543. It became one of the richest capitals of the new world! For 200 years it was the Military seat of the Spanish colony. It too was destroyed by earth quakes and by 1776 it was abandoned.

In the 1770s the population of the city peaked at over 60,000 people. Compared to the present day 34,000. (Probably because the hostel owner told me that a small house in Antigua goes for over 1 million USD!)

 

If you are lucky enough to be here during lent every weekend there is a celebration and a parade. The streets full of these rugs made of grass, flowers and colored saw dust. Parades of people, smoke and men wearing purple robes fill the street. It truly is a sight to see!


Antigua has cuisine and accommodation for every budget. As for me I stayed a few nights at the Hacia El Sur Hostel. It’s not the prettiest place but the location is great, showers are hot and the beds are good! The owner is a great guy as well. There is a rooftop restaurant above the hostel, Italian food next door, and a middle eastern restaurant two doors down that has big plates of really good food for $4. There is also a laundry service on this block. This photo of Volcan Fuego erupting was taken from the roof of the hostel! (While eating chocolate cheese cake.)

Antigua is also home to one of the best pizzas I have ever had (EVER)! Do yourself a favor and visit the San Martin Bakery. Baked goods, great coffee and deserts and the pizza is the best I have had by far in Central America!

 (Photo revuemag.com)

On Sunday check out the local market. Stalls packed full of hand made Mayan crafts and souvenirs. Mayan women wearing entricitly woven traditional dress, hand made shoes and many with smiles full of gold teeth.


There is also a great local market near the arch ran by a very nice Guatemalan man with a pony tale. He walked me around and showed me art, told me I was welcome in this country and that it was nice to meet me and then told me that my lip ring is very sexy.



Where to stay-

Hacia El Sur Hostel- Dorm bed $10 per night. Good beds, rooftop restaurant, good wifi, Excelent free breakfast!

Getting to and from-

From Leon- The shuttle from Nicaragua takes about 16 hours. Leaves at 2 am and drives through Honduras, El Salvador and takes you to Antigua for $55.

Lake Aritlan- Shuttle is direct and takes about 3 hours. Cost-$11 (80 quetzal)

Nicaragua

The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

From Pirates to Paradise! The Corn Islands.. It was once called the Skeleton Islands inhibited by a local tribe of cannibals. The current local people are descendants of British prospectors and freed slaves. (I think Jamaican) These islands were a haven for Pirates in the 1600s. There is an untold number of shipwrecks that scatter the shores of both islands. There was a 99 year lease signed on the islands by the United States in 1914 but the lease was eventually terminated because of lack of interest by the States. (Dummies) Tropical water, tropical sunsets, no cars, no roads and a bungalow on the ocean. The best kept secret in the Caribbean!

I have been hearing stories since I was in Costa Rica about the panga (ferry boat) going from Little Corn Island to Big Corn Island capsizing a few weeks ago and 12 people drowning. I later heard that the coast guard said no boats were aloud to leave but was told the people bribed the driver to take them anyways so they could catch their flight. The engine failed and a wave came from the side and flipped the boat. There weren’t life jackets and many of the people couldn’t swim. (Not sure if that’s all facts) So I have been a bit uneasy about this boat ride for the last month. After the flight arrived to the Big island we went to the docks and boarded a tug boat delivering goods to the little island. We paid them $6 each to tag along. This was the slowest boat ever! This thing was putting over 8-10 foot waves for an hour before we arrived. But in one piece I was!

When we arrived to the docks on the main side of the island. None of the rooms looked to appealing so we walked down the shore and found a trail leading into the jungle. We followed that trail through a couple zig zags to the other side of the island. After a 15 minute walk I started to hear the waves crashing. I turned a corner and saw the most turquoise water ever! I have arrived..

This was the paradise! Tropical waters, nice beaches, a cool ocean breeze and not a person in site. We rented a bungalow with two beds and private bathroom on the ocean at Elsas place for $30 a night. (You can get smaller rooms with no bathroom for less.)

 Photo-bigcornisland.com

Every morning I woke up to a huge breakfast on the jungle at Rosas. A fruit bowl as big as your ass, home made coconut bread toast with jam, home made tea and juice for about $3.50. After breakfast we would take the two mile stroll around the island, sitting on the beaches of Yemaya. (Speaking of food you can find lobster dinners around the island for $8.)

Yemaya though, this place is not for the light pockets. A room starts at $330 a night but that’s the name of the game for a guy like me. I sleep with the poor people and spend my day living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Infinity pools, hammocks on private beaches, beers on penthouse balconies. Those are the things that get me goin wile traveling. And other then the beers, I prefer not to pay for any of it.

During happy hour from 1-4 at Yemaya the beers are $2 and they have lobster tacos for $4! Boom, that’s how you get it done.

Every bar should have swings for bar stools..

Sunsets and nights were usually spent at Tranquilo Cafe. (Buy one get one drinks from 5-7) Listening to the white stripes, eating smoked pulled pork sandwiches, drinking beer and eating homemade cookie ice cream sandwiches!


FTW! Life is good here.

After 6 nights of living the dream we packed up and took the actual little panga boat this time to the big island. 40 people on an oversized canoe. Half way through a storm kicked up some wicked winds and rain started coming down in buckets! There was a huge piece of plastic in the boat we covered up with as I am thinking about how they told me the plastic could have been part to blame for the others drowning. Now my concern was covering my passport and camera.  But after 30 minutes or so we reached solid ground. The boat ride wasn’t so bad I guess.

On to Big Corn island. We took a taxi to LuLu’s Place. Owned by a real nice retired guy from the states. You can get a private room with shared bathroom for $30. It also is next to Big Fish Cafe. One of the best places to eat on the island. There is also a little bakery shack a few doors down that has the best banana bread for .50 cents! We only spent two nights on big corn but did manage to do some snorkeling.

There is a dive shop Dos Tiburones is on the North End of the island very close to LuLu’s that has a $20 snorkel tour a few times a day.

Blue fish as far as you could see!

This was a random Mary statue we wondered across.

These are the anchors and cannons from a Spanish pirate ship from the 1600s. Most of the ships wood rotted away long ago but the heart is still here.

I think there are 6 cannons in this photo.

We snorkeled three spots. The 1600s pirate ship wreck, a reef and Steam Ship that wrecked into the shallows of Big Corn around 1946ish. This is part of the engine compartment above water.

Part of the prop from the steam ship.

The next morning we woke up with the sun to make the 2 hour early check in for our 20 person domestic 8 am flight. (Why) We scheduled a cab to pic is up but at 6am there was no one so we started walking. This was the sunrise on our walk to the airport.

We walked for about 15 minutes and looked down a dirt path and found the runway. Through the a hole in the fence and then we march. Those things are much bigger then they look! But 15 minutes down the runway and we neared the airport. Children on their way to school lined both sides of the runway.



Where to stay-

Little Corn- Elsa’s Place. $25-$45 per night.

Big Corn- LuLu’s. $30 per night.

Getting to and away-

Flight from Managua with no notice- $174 round trip.

Ferry to Little Corn- $6 each way.

Nicaragua

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

The once fishing village and shipping port of San Juan del Sur is now a popular surfing destination. In the 1850’s it was a resting spot for prospectors on their way to and from California during the gold rush. They filmed four different seasons of survivor near here as well. There has been many proposals to build the Nicaragua canal connecting Atlantic it Pacific through San Juan del Sur. One of my favorite spots in Central America so far!

After a couple weeks of Costa Rica prices I had enough! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and was pleasantly greeted by San Juan del Sur! The land of $1 beers and $1 tacos! Where have you been all my life.

This is another one of those places that can be done on any budget. The hills are lined with 5 star resorts and infinity pools and the town is full of budget hotels and hostels. Lots of really decent food to be had here. The view from the Mirado del Cristo de la Misericordia is pretty amazing!

The hike to get to get to this giant Jesus statue throwing two fingers is pretty much straight up for 15 minutes but definitely worth it. It’s $2 to enter and closes at sunset.


The night life on the weekends is pretty great! The streets are filled with lots of people, late night restaurants and bars. One of the best brick over pizzas I have had in Central America at La Vecchia Signora Pizzaz. Late night bars you can find everything from $1 beers to fancy craft cocktails.

There is also many of really good beaches with great surf that you can get to by shuttle bus if you aren’t laying by the pool hung over every day (because the beer is so cheep) like some real dirt bags I know..

Where to stay-

I stayed for 4 nights at the Hola Ola hostel. It’s a new place on the outskirts of town away from all the crazies. It’s ran by a guy that grew up in Nicaragua and studied in the states for years so English is no problem here. There is no public kitchen or AC here but the 4 person dorms, pool and the view make up for it for $13 a night. (The photo above was taken here)

Getting to or from-

-From the border of Costa Rica you can take a taxi to San Juan Del Sur for $10 per person.

-From the docks of Ometepe. I did the reverse trip from the hostel to the docks in a private cab for $20 with two people.

Costa Rica

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

I was to the point that Costa Rica had worn my budget thin quickly but I figured we could make time for one more stop on the way out. I actually took the ferry boat across from Manuel Antonio to the bottom of the peninsula and spent a week in Santa Theresa. Many people told me about how amazing this place was but I was extremely not impressed. The beaches were ranked some of the best in Central America (I don’t know by who but I don’t buy it. I have seen better in Florida.) Anywho I am skipping any more talk about this place all together. So with one stop Left I decided that Tamarindo looked like a viable option on the way to Nicaragua.


Many people in other parts of the country called it Tamagringo and told me how it is full of Americans and Canadians. So expectations were low. A friend of mine told me about coming here 12 years ago and having to take a horse to the good surf breaks because there wasn’t much of a town.

The times they are a changing. It is a bit touristic but all and all I dug the place! It’s like if a ran down cancun and key west had a baby. A surf baby town with middle aged Americans on 4 wheelers. The surf here is good. The sunsets are better. You can travel here on a stretch of the backpacker budget to ocean front condos for $400 a night.

If you are on the long term travel plan like me then there are a couple of local restaurants called “Sodas” where you can still get a meal for $5. The night life here is not to shabby either! You can go to Sharkys Thursday night for ladies night where they drink free and all of the Ja Rule and Tone Loc you can handle. If you are lucky enough to be around on a Sunday night please do yourself a favor and go to the Pura Vida Hostel. They have a big common area and two local guys come play Spanish guitar and drums. It was unbelievable! Seriously some of the best live music I have ever seen, ever!

Where to stay-

I stayed one night a Pura Vida hostel waiting for my booking at De Botella de Leche. The night there was pretty good. AC in the rooms all day, two kitchens, beers $2.

I then had booked 3 nights at the De Botella de Leche Hostel which has a kitchen, AC in the rooms all day and a nice pool for $17 a night. I would definitely recommend this place. 

Getting to or from-

-To get to Nicaragua take the local bus from the bus stop on the side of the road in the center to Liberia. From here you switch busses to the Frontera de Nicaragua (border of) After you stamp out and in to Nicaragua there will be taxis on the other side waiting to take you to San Juan Del Sur. $10 a head is the most you should pay.

-Coming from Santa Theresa we took a private shuttle to avoid about 4 busses one of which you have to know where to get off on the Pan American and a ferry boat. The shuttle took 4 hours direct and costed $50.

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

 


The journey from Puerto Viejo to Manuel Antonio. If I can give you any advise about this journey you do not want to do this trip with a hang over! After a long night of eating pizza and drinking beer in Puerto Viejo I woke up for the 9:00 bus. 4 hours of driving through the jungle and we ended up in San Jose. I immediately knew this was not a place I needed to stay and a guy at the terminal told me the bus drivers were about to go on strike so I could be stuck here for two or three days. The next bus was leaving for Manuel Antonio in 30 minutes and it was in a different bus terminal. I somehow managed to get a cab there, puke my brains out, eat some chicken and rice and still make it on that bus in time. Another 4 hours later and we ended up in the town of Quepos. At 10:00pm on a Sunday night you get the impression you are in a run down shit hole in a dirty neighborhood in Costa Rica. And that is because you are! Haha Well not completely but there was nothing much there for me. After one night stay at the not so nice super hot Smiling Monkey Hostel confused to why I was there in the first place, we took the bus up and down the windy road to Manuel Antonio.

We booked a couple beds at the Hostel Que Tuanis. This place only opened a couple months ago but was brilliant! There is three bungalows on stilts with private bathrooms, white sheets and air conditioning in the jungle of Costa Rica for $18 a night! Sounds good to me.

Monkeys hung out in the gardens, parrots fly from tree to tree every morning. Manuel Antonio is a great little town with lots of things for the week traveling gringos. High end resorts are spread throughout the jungles with restaurants to match.

 (Photo taken at the 1965 Boeing 727 hotel room Costa Verde in the trees of Manuel Antonio.)

If you plan to go to the Manuel Antonio National Park do know that they are closed on Mondays. And Tuesday morning there is a stampede of people waiting in line in the hot sun to enter the park. It took us about an hour and a half to enter. It is the most visited National Park in Costa Rica and also the smallest. So they limit the amount of people inside. The park has some great look out points, a few different beaches, sloths and monkeys! (The cute little black faced ones. Not the ones in Asia that steal all your shit!)

There is also a hostel you will pass wile exiting the park that has a restaurant in front. It was the cheapest food I found in Manuel Antonio, and good! If you want to spend a few more bucks stop by the US Army plane shot down in Nicaragua by guerrillas in the 1986 now turned bar and restaurant.

And the $4 milk shakes are amazing!

  

Where to stay- 

Hostel Que Tuanis- $18 a night for a hostel bed. AC, private bathroom, kitchen

Getting to and from- 

From San Jose if you are coming from San Juan Del Sur you need to take a cab to a different terminal about 10 minutes away for Quepos. Catch the bus there. Colectivo is 5 hours. Directo is about 4. 

Leaving you take the local bus to the terminal in Quepos. From there you can book a shuttle to San Jose, Uvita or Punta Arenas to catch the ferry to the peninsula. 

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