Wednesday, 24 January 2018

TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING CENTRAL AMERICA


Most definitely buy a backpack instead of a suitcase.
There are two main reasons for this; the state of the pavements, and the chicken buses. You have to lift your suitcase either onto the back of the buses or hand them to be tied to the roof and trust me, this is much easier with a rucksack! The pavements aren't very consistent in Central America and they will quickly defeat any suitcase wheels you bring to them! My suitcase handle broke on my journey so I had to carry it on it's side, only to be labelled a briefcase wanker by my lovely friends! Ha-ha, there's another incentive right there - get a backpack instead to avoid being labelled one of those!

 ...About the chicken buses...
They are not for the faint hearted, in fact they are absolute madness. I would only recommend them if you are travelling light and in a group. Chicken buses are the public buses there, and they are essentially just American school buses. Local people carry everything on these bad boys. I'm talking rolls on lino, huge bags of corn and yes, you guessed it - chickens! They let people on even when the seats are all taken and there's usually heaps of people standing in the isle of the bus. We saw people fall forward on many occasions due to the driver slamming on the breaks and I'm not entirely sure it's very safe. On one chicken bus, we even witnessed a man climbing out and swinging from the back door of the bus to leave. It was definitely an experience to have travelled this way, but when I was completely solo, I opted for private transfers instead! 

Get there early if you are taking a chicken bus, or any bus.
In this regard, Central America reminds me so much of when I lived in Spain. Nothing, I mean nothing, seems to run on time. It's either too early or late, there seems to be no in-between, however in regards to the chicken buses, you must get there early for a seat! People rush onto the back of the bus and literally rugby tackle one another to get a seat. One bus, that I prepaid fifty dollars for, would have left me if my friend wasn't there twenty minutes early! Save yourself the hassle and chaos, and arrive early! 

Always have the correct currency for each country, with a reserve of dollars.
Sometimes they are funny about taking American dollars and sometimes you will feel (and actually be) cheated on the exchange rate. You can change your cash from each country to the next country's currency at the boarders!

The currencies for each country are as follows:
Mexico: Mexican Peso
Belize:  Belizean Dollars
Guatemala: Quetzals
El Salvador: United States Dollars
Honduras: Honduran Lempira
Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Cordoba
Costa Rica: Costa Rican Colon
Panama: United States Dollar/ Panamanian Balboa 

Carry toilet roll at all times and brace yourself for what you are going to find.
I carried loo roll after being caught without it for a while. I also like to make a seat for myself with loo roll so it works out better if I have it in an abundance. You cannot flush the loo roll down the toilet in Central America, and you must put it in the bin. Please remember this or you'll have to have the awkward blockage conversations that we all did! Also, I have seen some of the worst toilets I have seen in my entire life here. One to completely avoid, is the family-run loo at the Honduras boarder. Seriously, choose a bush instead.

Learn as much Spanish as you can before you go.
Spanish is my second language, so everything ran pretty smoothly for me as I was able to talk to people (even when I got left on a motorway by a bus driver). However, had I not spoken Spanish, I actually do not know what I would have done in certain situations. I think you can definitely get by without it, and most other travellers I met couldn't speak a word of Spanish, but it does make life easier if you're alone. I like to learn a bit of language for everywhere I go anyway as it shows respect and courtesy for a country and it's culture in my opinion. 

Learn the local expressions.
All these countries seemed to have their own expressions, which meant a multitude of things all in one. The general meanings seemed to be 'cool/ good day/ good vibes/ enjoy!' and they said it everywhere, and smiled everywhere when I said them, so here goes:

Mexico: Buena Onda (cool, specifically people)
Belize: Weeh di gaan an? (what's going on?)
Guatemala: Chilero (awesome, good, pretty)
Honduras: Buena Onda (cool)
El Salvador: Chivo
Nicaragua: Diacochimba (cool, awesome)
Costa Rica: Pura Vida
Panama: Chevere (cool)

Don't be scared
People tried to tell me I was crazy for going to Central America alone, yet none of them had even been! It's just silly,, a developing country doesn't mean a bunch of murderous villains are waiting for you outside the airport gates! It means there is lots of crime in the inner cities of course, but it also means that the 'poor' and the land workers and farmers are not interested in you or your stuff. They just care about their crops and when they're going to harvest, because they need to eat and they are focused on their basic needs. Obviously, ensure you know where the dangerous places are and don't go into them, but don't be scared of the people or being there. The tourism industry is thriving and growing there and the good people, like you and I (99% of the population) are very happy to have you there! 

Read hostel reviews (in depth) before you go,
It is not like Europe, the hostels can be awful here! Okay, so specifically in Nicaragua, make sure you see what others have said. I booked a hostel based on the photos I saw once. It had a beautiful pool, hammocks galore, a wonderful terrace and average looking rooms. However, when we arrived, these were glorified, but the bathroom was the second dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen (after the one at the Honduras boarder) and the bed sheets were simply rank. I had to walk out and look at three other hostels close by before I found one that was suitable. That was in Granada, but in Leon it was the same story. Seriously, do your research, thoroughly, and ask around! 

Appreciate good Wi-Fi when you actually get it.
I was pretty lucky on this front the whole way through my trip, however there were one or two places that didn't have it in the rooms, and obviously I didn't have it out and about. I love Wi-Fi to find maps to know exactly where I am going, to let people back home know I was all good and to research things to do. Of course, I needed Wi-Fi to write my blog and catch up with work emails too. So, when I found good Wi-Fi, I tried to do as much as I could then and there. 

Download Shazam
They play music EVERYWHERE in Central America; I'm talking outside petrol stations, in shops, on buses, in restaurants, and outside their houses. Music is everywhere, and good music at that. I am partial to a bit of Reggaeton, Merengue and Bachata, and I heard them all everywhere. I missed out on so many good songs when I didn't have Shazam downloaded and I urge you not to do the same! 

Download Offline Maps
Okay, so this is a lifesaver. Google maps isn't so advanced over there, so you cannot get a public transport route - you have to go by your map and offline maps. They are an absolute lifesaver of an invention!

Only eat it, If you can peel it.
I was absolutely fine with the food, and I occasionally did eat salad and all sorts. However, I do generally go with the rule to only eat things that you can peel, things that are in a sealed pack, or cooked food to be safe. So I bought lots of fruit like bananas, avocados, oranges and papayas. If I was preparing it I didn't mind buying anything else from the supermarket and cooking it at home. Some of the people I was with refused to eat vegetables for weeks on end LOL, like animal carcases and secretions festering with animal bacteria are any better. No wonder I didn't get ill. Ha-Ha-Ha. More for the vegan wins! 

Try the typical dishes for an added side of culture and they're more economical so it'll save money.
Obviously, in all of these countries rice, beans and plantain were the cheap loves, but for a more authentic feel...

Mexico: Tacos & Burritos every day baby!
Belize: Banana bread was everywhere, I did manage to find a vegan one in the end too.
Guatemala: Tamales, they are wrapped in either plantain or banana leaves here, and they sometimes put chocolate in the middle. They can make them with dark chocolate too! 
El Salvador: Pupusa, like a corn tortilla but stuffed with a savoury filling. I chose veggies and beans!
Honduras: This was very much fusion food. A mixture of Caribbean, Spanish and African cuisine. El plato tipico (a typical plate) consists of plantain, rice, tortillas, marinated cabbage and veggies). 
Nicaragua: A taxi driver told me the national dishes were: Nacatamal (like a corn pastry, can have with veggies and ask for it without lard), Vigoron (pronounced biguron, it's a cabbage style salad with boiled yucca wrapped in banana leaves, ask for it with no meat). Another traditional dish is called 'Indio Viejo' which literally means 'old Indian' and it's a stew. It usually has pork rind but you can ask for the veggie version. 
Costa Rica: I was told that 'Gallo Pinto' was the national dish here, which literally means 'spotted rooster obviously I didn't try it, but I would recreate it with soya chunks instead.
Panama: Sanacocho is the national dish here. It's a chicken soup. I didn't eat here, but if you do, you can always ask around to see if there's a veggie option! 

Also, drink as many fresh, cold coconuts as you can in each place! They're cheap, nutritious and super hydrating! 

Wear insect repellent (a natural one - Citronella)
I left my citronella behind and I refuse to wear DEET - it melts plastic for goodness sake! So I was bitten to shreds, but to be honest, I would honestly take the bites that have now healed and gone. This is preferable to spraying myself with repellent that makes it hard to breath and poisons me, just to repel little bugs! Also, most of the people who did wear insect repellent, found themselves bitten to death anyway! 

I hope you have found this post helpful and I hope you enjoy planning and going on any future travels to this part of the world. It's one of my favourite parts of this planet thus far and I am looking forward to going back! I will be writing a separate blog post explaining all of the boarder crossings and shuttles to each country, I will be sure to link it here.

Peace Out Potatoes xo




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