All posts by Andrew MacLeod

As One Adventure Ends…

Another begins, or so the story goes. As many of you know we are now back in the United States from our amazing honeymoon in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. However, we decided that wasn’t enough and we are off to London in the morning to participate in my sister’s medical school graduation festivities in London. From there we will be off to the mainland of Europe to visit our friend Alouette whom we met in Nicaragua and then on to Munich to see one of my groomsmen, Michael. From there we will be off to Edinburgh, to see my favorite city in the world.

We have not yet finished writing about our adventures in Central America and will continue to write them as we travel and keep you up to date on our new adventures on the other side of the Atlantic, so stay tuned for more from Love and Backpacks!

Ojo de Agua: The Recovery

After our hike up Mt. Maderas the entire group was sore and in need of recovery. We’d heard rumor of a lake of healing water on the island filled by a natural spring: Ojo de Agua. Our guide from the mountain had told us it was a short one kilometer walk up the road. We should have known, based on his time estimates from the hike, that this was likely a much longer distance. We set off walking with directions from the front desk: “it’s on the other side of the river on the left.”

We started walking and almost immediately a herd of horses came running down the middle of the street. We dodged to the side and watched this spectacle block traffic as the horses tried to sneak a bite to eat before the farmer shooed them along. We held still and attempted to stay out of the way to avoid being trampled.

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As we were walking, one of our waiters from Villa Paraiso caught up with us as he was walking to catch the bus home and we asked him about Ojo de Agua and said that we’d been told it was only 15-20 minutes away; he started laughing, hard, and told us that might be true, if you ran quickly. We all realized we’d fallen victim one more time to Bismark’s “15 more minutes” line, being that we wanted to see the healing waters and swim to help loosen our sore muscles. We pushed on, simply enjoying the lush scenery of Ometepe. We were enjoying the walk and talking about conquering the volcano the day before when our waiter stopped us quickly and pointed out a group of spider monkeys feasting on food refuse by the side of the road, including a mother with a baby on her back. The wild monkeys let us get up close and personal, clearly being well adjusted to their human companions on the island.

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A mother and her baby.

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Two more spider monkeys resting in the shade.

After another 45 minutes of walking through the hills of Ometepe we finally reached the river, with cattle drinking on one side and families doing their laundry on the other. It was here that I realized what a simple life most residents on the island lead. This simplicity was part of the charm of Ometepe; the scenery was beautiful, the people out of their way friendly, and life just moved at a slower pace.

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Families doing their laundry in the river, they wanted a dollar to take the picture.

About 100 meters past the river we finally came to the sign for Ojo de Agua; only another 500 meters to go and we would be able to soak in the healing waters and stretch our sore muscles. We reached the entrance, paid our three dollars and walked into this beautifully shrouded mineral spring lagoon. We all quickly changed and jumped in, eager to cool off. While the mineral spring did not heal all of our pains, the walk there combined with the swim helped eliminate most of our pains and the mineral balance of the water left us feeling clean and refreshed. Ojo de Agua is definitely a must see if you come to Ometepe.

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Ojo de Agua, a sight for sore eyes.

On the hike the previous day we had heard howler monkeys throughout the day and caught glimpses towards the end of the day but nothing up close. As we were finishing up at Ojo de Agua we were greeted by the familiar grunts and howls of the howler monkeys’ approach, and we’re pleasantly surprised to see them in the trees above the spring, apparently incensed that we had invaded their space. It was the perfect end to our time on Ometepe, and though we were sad to leave and part with our new friends, we move on to adventures in Costa Rica, knowing we will be back.

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A howler monkey in the trees above Ojo de Agua.

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The dirt path as we leave Ojo de Agua at the end of a long day.

Ometepe: Lakeside Paradise

Laura and I have moved on from San Juan del Sur to the lush island paradise of Ometepe. Since arriving three days ago we have hiked the smaller of the two volcanos on the island, Maderas, a 1400 meter high volcano that at times involved us scrambling on hands and knees to go up. The trek took a total of 7 1/2 hours. The four hours up were difficult and our traveling companions helped urge us along and without them I doubt we would have summited the mountain. After our lunch on the mountain top we were feeling energized and ready to begin our descent, only to discover that the descent was harder then the climb, we were on our butts and scrambling through the mud all the way down the mountain. It was only at the bottom that I found out that the guide and Ian one of our traveling friends had been racing and running down the hill and nearly killed themselves running off a cliff. When we got to bottom we had a celebratory beer and the endorphins started flowing, we were all happy to be done with the mountain, but proud of our accomplishment.

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The group before the climb; left to right Laura, Alouette, Bruce, Ian, Ryan and Drew.

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Foliage on the hike from a vantage point looking down the slope.

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Mist drifting down the mountain.

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Laura and I at the halfway point of the hike, and the best vantage on the mountain.

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The summit party, all smiles after conquering the mountain. Little did we know what came next.

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Bruce, Ian and our guide, Bismark, in the moss forest.

It was a difficult day, but definitely an accomplishment to remember for years to come!

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Maderas from the beach on Ometepe.

Día de San Juan Bautista: La Fiesta Patronales

We arrived in San Juan del Sur with a bang, literally. Fireworks were being set off all over town with thunderous booms from early in the morning to late into the night. We spent our first 24 hours trying to figure out what on earth was going on in this seemingly sleepy seaside town, or if this was just normal; it wasn’t until after we followed a parade featuring a hewn tree trunk through the streets of San Juan del Sur that we got our answer: the birthday of St. John, the patron saint of San Juan del Sur. The weekend marked the start of festivities in the lead up to the saint’s birthday. It included everything from potato sack races to celebrations of the saint’s baptism of Jesus to firework-laced ‘bull’ icons racing through the crowd. The celebrations continued with each day seemingly getting larger as more and more businesses around town closed down for the celebration and the streets got more and more crowded. We were fortunate to get to see this celebration first hand, despite being startled out of bed at all hours of the night by fireworks and church bells.

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The whole community came out for the celebration. There were bouncy castles for children, concert stages setup through the town square constantly blasting popular local dance music. This was clearly the community event of the year. Residents set up chairs all over the church plaza and talked, ate, laughed, and drank; and my did they drink. Flor de Caña sponsored the entire event! The square was packed from late morning till early morning (the last firework show of the night went off at 4:30 in the morning). Everyone was incredibly friendly and inviting and it almost made us feel as if we were part of the community. It makes you realize how in different parts of the world, patron saint’s are still very much a large part of the community and the celebration brings people together.

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Bull efficacies chasing the crowd with fireworks.

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May pole celebration in front of the Catholic Church in San Juan del Sur.

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Jesus being paraded through the crowd in celebration of John the Baptist.
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The sunset from our hostel above the church where all of the celebrations were.

Little Corn: A Photo Essay

Included in this post are a few of the pictures Laura and I got on Little Corn. This post will be updated when we get home with properly edited and much higher quality copies. I chose not to travel with a laptop and instead have been doing all of my photo editing on an Android tablet. Needless to say this work process has been cramped and difficult to manage, but I will get into that in a ‘nerd out’ post later.

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Little Corn is full of isolated beaches which goes with Beach and Bungalow’s almost Robinson Crusoe theme.

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The fastest form of transport on the island.

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Lola, Little Corn Beach and Bungalow’s local rescue parot.

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Your marker to let you know you’d arrived.

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The island is not particularly high, so to get a 360 view required a bit of climbing up an abandoned lighthouse.

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The view was definitely worth the climb.

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American College volunteer groups frequently come to the islands to help teach English and repair and build people’s homes, there was a group that arrived about halfway into our stay.

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World cup

And of course everyone needs their world cup fix, Los Delfinos is the only bar on the island with a public TV for the games.

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But even there you get a fantastic view.

More pictures to come when we get home! Laura and I are celebrating the festival of San Juan Bautista here in San Juan del Sur, the concerts and fireworks went till 4:00 am and picked up around 9:00, hopefully we make it all night tonight!

Looking Back on the Corn Islands

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It’s hard to believe that the first part of our trip has come and gone. We have moved on from the Corn Islands and are now in beautiful San Juan del Sur on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua. I’m sitting in a coffee shop looking back at the pictures I took, the places I saw and some of the friendships I made on the islands and realized what a little piece of paradise it is and how completely it is disconnected from the real world. People who come to the Corn Islands for a couple of days routinely push their trips into weeks, months and some even turn to living and working on the islands.

The places we stayed at on each island were incredibly different from each other, but both were comfortable. Ike Siu’s cabanas on the north end of Big Corn were small and comfortable but offered all of the amenities of a modern hotel; A/C, fast wifi and a delicious hot breakfast all contained with a magical Caribbean view (see the picture above), all for an incredibly affordable rate. The thing that really makes this place though is the owner, Ike, he greets you at the airport and immediately takes you on a driving tour of the island to show you all of the best spots and places to explore. I can’t recommend his cabanas strongly enough!

On the opposite side is Little Corn Beach and Bungalow; your very own Robinson Crusoe living experience with many of the luxuries and amenities of a 5-star resort. The beds were amazingly comfortable, draped in an all enclosing mosquito net to protect you from unwanted visitors and a fan (that only worked till 6:30 am when the village power went out). Each morning you would awake and have coffee on your porch, sans electricity and alarm clocks, enjoying the sound of the waves breaking the beach not 100 feet from where you lounged.

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Owners Scot and Christine are dedicated business owners, constantly training and working with their employees to provide their guests with an experience they might receive sitting at a five star restaurant in the United States. This constant process of refining the experience guests receive helps keep their employees sharp but also provides them skills that in a tourism minded locale like the Corn Island will give them a leg up when competing for other jobs in the future (both front end managers at the hotel are locals). All of the employees showed an incredible dedication to the needs of the guests, and the food at the Turned Turtle Restaurant cannot be rivaled anywhere on the island (I have not eaten that much steak in a long time!). That being said the cost of staying at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow rivals staying at a 4-5 star resort in somewhere like Puerto Vallarta, we utilized their ‘RADD’ deal which provided two meals a day and all the domestic beer, soda and juice you could drink (I drank a lot of Toña – the local Nicaraguan beer) and discounts on various activities and your room rate. The cost of this deal as well as the room has gone up since we booked and makes the deal, which was already borderline to me for making economic sense a little less enticing, I think I would rather pay a bit more and have it include absolutely everything. The one negative comment I have is in their accounting system for meals/drinks they utilize a paper notebook where they annotate what was eaten/drank by guests but provide no accounting of this to the guest at check out. We were told we consumed 29 meals during our stay of the allotted 24 meals, however Laura and I went back and calculated our meals and realized we had only eaten 26 (the 4 per day plus breakfast on the last day), if you are limited on the meals you eat on the inclusive deal I would like to see some sort of coupon exchanged for your meal, that way each party can account for their use. That being said we had an amazing experience at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow and would strongly recommend staying there for anyone looking to have a tropical getaway that disconnects them a little bit from the modern world and takes a bit of an adventure to reach.

Bon voyage!

Hello and welcome!

Thanks for stopping by! This is the blog of Drew and Laura MacLeod as we set off on our first trip as a married couple for a month in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We will be making stops in the Corn Islands, San Juan del Sur, Ometepe, Granada,  and Tamarindo. Stay tuned for pictures and blogs about our activities and the people we see!

Drew and Laura

Big Corn Island

Laura and I have spent the last four days on Big Corn Island, the first stop of our thirty day trip through central America. It’s the larger of two islands approximately 70 km off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean. To get here you have to catch a small plane from Managua that runs twice a day (and by small I mean occasionally it is a single engine Cessna). The island culture is a curious fusion of Caribbean and Latin American, there are parts of the island where I would be hard pressed not to think I was on Jamaica instead of in Central America, and just like Jamaica all of the locals are incredibly friendly (just watch out for the wandering mango salesman who promises he’ll be right back with change for you).

We stayed with a local by the name of Ike Siu at his bed and breakfast. Ike was incredibly friendly, helpful and accommodating; he picked us up from the airport, and despite feeling under the weather he began showing off his island to us, letting us know the best places to eat and beaches to lay out on. His wealth of knowledge that he shared with us made adjusting to island life easy for us.

We spent most of our time on the island unwinding on the beach relaxing at picnic center where for the most part we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. On our last day on the island we took a taxi tour of the island (only $6 an hour!) to take pictures and see some of the more unique sites of Big Corn Island, which is home to one of the Souls of the World (one of the 4 vertices of the cube contained within the earth). We are now staying at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow and relaxing some more before starting our trek across Nicaragua.