It's 2:00pm on Friday, September 6th and I am sitting by the window watching it pour down rain outside here in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica

Nicaragua!!  I spent 27 days and drove 541 miles through this beautiful country.

Quick Facts:
  • Comparable in size to Alabama or Greece, it is the largest country in Central America
  • Nearly 1/5 of the country is designated protected areas like national parks or nature reserves
  • Population: 5,995,928
  • Currency - Cordoba
  • Capital: Managua

The Honduras/Nicaragua border was as normal - get my passport stamped, make some copies, get the car fumigated, get car insurance, have them do a really quick inspection of the car (I've learned you could bring anything into any country heading south - they really don't search or look for anything) and get my visa for the car.

Now I was cruising freely and heading to the Treehouse Hostel where I planned on volunteering for the next month.  This hostel was built about 3 years ago by a guy from Texas and is completely in the forest, next to Mombacho Volcano Park and about 6 miles from Granada. 

The main tree house:

A suspended bridge over the trees connected the main tree house to a hammock platform:

Communal dinner was cooked every night by myself or one of the other 3 volunteers.  If the mood was right, cards and drinks ensued afterwards:

A very unique place indeed and my front row seat to view howler monkeys. Also, an excellent spot to be woken up at 4 or 5am every morning by these miraculously loud mammals.  

My time volunteering there involved greeting & entertaining guests, cooking meals, hauling in supplies (everything had to be carried up the side of the mountain) and just being on hand to answer questions and help out.  I met great people from all over the world.

There were some great spots to check out right near the Laguna de Apoyo:

And the very wet hike back up the mountain from the lake - luckily the intense rain kept it cool.  Some folks who were staying at the hostel came along:

The Mombacho Volcano National Park was also right next door and I had the pleasure of zip lining for the first time, with new friend, Hugo, from Holland:

I didn't know upside down was going to be part of it, but why not?!?!

Though my original plan was to volunteer for a month, I got antsy to get back on the road so left after 2 weeks.  I had heard many, many great things about Ometepe Island, located in the beautiful Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.  My last night in the tree house, I met 3 other travelers also heading to Ometepe, so they piled in my car and we were off.

Lake Nicaragua is absolutely beautiful and the weather was all sunshine. Since it was low season, I just showed up, hoping a boat would be available to put my car on...and indeed there was space on one leaving within the hour.  I got all the necessary paperwork then had a quick meal of chicken and rice.  You can see the ferry only holds 4 cars:

On the ferry:

The sun was baking that day as we took the 1 1/2 boat ride to the island.  During the boat ride, we had an incredible view of Volcan ConcepciĆ³n, one of 2 volcanoes (the other being Volcan Maderas) that form the island.  Both are active, with ConcepciĆ³n's last eruption in 2010.  

We arrived safely and were back on the road, driving through one of the most beautiful islands I have seen.  I had been told by a few backpackers that I must stay at El Zoplilote, an ecological farm/hostel started by an Italian guy.

Here's the layout of the island.  I was staying on the north side of the bottom right section of the island:

When we arrived, I understood what all the hype was about.  El Zopilote is a very laid-back, earth friendly farm with a great atmosphere and staff.  I opted to camp (only $2/night!) alongside another 7-8 tents.  The place is almost always full, even all the hammocks were booked by travelers.

I thought I might stay for the weekend,  but ended up staying 8 days and could have stayed longer.  I love when I come across places like this, where I feel like I am surrounded by similarly-minded, easy-going travelers.

My days on Ometepe involved lots of walking, lots of sweating and lots of trying to keep things dry in the abundant rain.  I usually started the day with yoga, which was offered for free every morning at 7am.  I got my cricks and aches worked out, then had a quick breakfast.

A friend and I decided to walk the 2 hours to Ojo de Agua, a very peaceful mineral springs that will supposedly take 10 years off your age (no money-back guarantee on this):

There was a very sweet woman selling homemade pastries with mango & pineapple fillings. You can see my friend, Zane, from Colorado, is a giant compared to her:

The following day I gathered a group from Zopilote to head to the San Ramon waterfalls.  While driving along the rocky road with massive potholes, I spotted Giorgio (Italiian) & Josepha (German) who I originally met at the Tree house Hostel about a week prior when they stayed one night.  Since I had a full car, they jumped on the sideboards and held on for a bumpy ride.  After parking, we hiked for about 2 hours through a beautiful tropical forest before arriving on this spectacle...with a 180m, or 590 ft, drop...

Everyone was already in high spirits because we had scored 4 watermelons at 20 cents a piece during the drive and, thus, we celebrated by eating one of them.  One of the life lessons I have picked up is that if you are ever with a group of people and bust out a watermelon, you are an instant all-star and loved by all.  It helps when someone in the group has a machete.

The rest of my time at El Zopilote was spent on the beach and walking around the island:

From a recommendation by my new friend, Alex (the tall guy below, with his girlfriend Becky, I was heading for El Gigante, a tiny beach town on the Pacific coast, about 1 1/2 hours from where the ferry would be dropping us.

El Gigante is one of many small beach towns I have been to where a lot of the land has been bought up by foreigners, driving up land prices.  The plus side is that it has not been too developed so still looks like a small town.  It is a popular destination for surfers.

I found the camping area and my only neighbor there, Martin, who had purchased an older Toyota 4Runner in New Mexico and had also driven it down.  He was volcanologist, living in Costa Rica and was driving the car there.

Here's a shot of dinner one night, cooked by a German girl living in town.  The crowd is Martin & another bloke from South Africa, plus the 3 girls that hitched a ride with me from Ometepe.

We had a delicious 3 course meal, with the highlight being banana curry.

I spent 4 days camping on the beach in El Gigante, then decided on one night at Playa Arajual, just south of El Gigante.

I camped one night at Matilda's, a hostel right next to the beach:

Keep posted until I finally document my time in Costa Rica!!  Thank you for reading!

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