Saturday, March 12, 2016

Nicaragua: Day 1

Nature's soundtrack fills my ears as I write this. Loud ocean waves crash over the beach less than 100 yards away from our wooden bungalow in the trees. Andi's asleep a few feet away from me, more relaxed than I've seen him in weeks. We are happy, thankful really, for the opportunity to experience such a beautiful place together over the next six days.

Andi and I hopped on an airplane in Minneapolis early Wednesday morning and landed in Liberia, Costa Rica a short 5 1/2 hours later. It's the same ridiculously cheap flight we took in January with the whole family. At just over $300 per ticket, it seemed silly to book a vacation anywhere else.

Our trip to Costa Rica with the kids earlier this winter allowed me to truly appreciate the ease of traveling alone with Andi. We packed all our belongings for this vacation in one backpack and carried it on to the airplane with us. No need to pack beach toys, diapers, kids medicine or children's books. I consider our family of four to be light travelers, but things are far less complicated when kids aren't involved. Swimming suits, t-shirts, shorts. Done.

There are many wonderful things about traveling with kids, but flying on an airplane is not one of them. It's a period of constant stress, counting heads, changing diapers in tiny spaces, dealing snacks and distracting restless bodies. Fortunately, our flight to Liberia on Wednesday was none of those things. We got upgraded to first-class, thanks to Andi's frequent flyer status and enjoyed roomy seats, unlimited beverages and a (second of the day!) breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, bagels and yogurt. Andi watched a downloaded T.V. show on his phone and worked on his computer, and I blogged for the first time in weeks. That alone felt like a vacation! Andi and I were the first people off the plane and through international customs in under 20 minutes. The entire process felt so easy. We truly appreciated our kid-free travel freedom.

Somewhere over the country of Belize ...

Our flight took us to Liberia, Costa Rica but our actual travel destination for this trip was San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua about 1 1/2 hours to the north. It was considerably more expensive and a farther drive to fly into Nicaragua's capital city of Managua, plus we would've had to connect flights in Atlanta. Smartly, Andi hired a transportation service to pick us up at the airport in Liberia and drive us over border into Nicaragua. Though, getting across was no easy feat.

Our driver, holding a sign with Andi's name on it, met us outside the Daniel Oduber International Airport and lead us through several dirt-paved parking lots to his waiting car. The hot, steamy air felt amazing as it hit our faces, and once again I was thankful not be lugging kids, suitcases, car seats and strollers along with us. Andi and I shot each other an excited glance as we approached a shiny black GMC Yukon waiting in the parking lot, but our excitement quickly plummeted when our driver climbed into an older red Toyota Corolla parked behind the Denali. Oh well...

The drive north to Nicaragua was hot, cramped and smelly. The car's a/c was running but without any vents in the backseat, Andi and I barely felt a thing. Our driver (who didn't speak a lick of English) also had one of those air freshener fans attached to his visor, so the entire car smelled like a strip club. Andi turned to me about 10 minutes into our drive and said the smell was giving him a headache. Meanwhile, I remained focused on the road ahead willing myself not to be car sick. After another five minutes, Andi politely asked the driver to remove the air freshener and cracked his backseat window. Hot but fresh 90 degree air felt like our better alternative.

The transportation service we'd hired (Macau Tours - promised to "grease the wheels" of customs to help us navigate the border crossing. We had no idea what to expect and placed our faith in our Spanish speaking driver to get us there safely. At the Costa Rican border, our driver parked his car and motioned for us to follow him inside a dilapidated government building. We approached the counter inside and handed our passports to the worker seated behind a glass wall. He handed Andi and I each a piece of paper to complete (similar to the customs paperwork we'd received on the airplane to enter the country), then stamped our passports. Our driver motioned for us to hand him our passports before we left and appeared to double-check they were stamped correctly. We hopped back in his car and drove another mile or so to the Nicaraguan border crossing.        

Once more, our driver parked his car and pointed to a small cement building with police officers inside. Andi and I walked through the check-point, handing over our passports for inspection. I told myself to wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off my face and remain calm as I looked around and saw at least 30 armed policemen standing guard.

Through another check-point we walked, this one a pop-up tent with two female officers who reviewed our passports. Further we walked to another open-air building with a male officer seated behind a desk. He reviewed our passports as a dozen armed police officers with rifles and shields looked on. This was number three of six different border check-point we'd pass through, none of which had any directional signage whatsoever. Without our driver's assistance, Andi and I would've never known which way to go.

Through a door and with another check of our passports, our Costa Rican driver introduced us to the Nicaraguan driver who'd take us the rest of the way. Edwin was his name, and he led us through a Nicaraguan Customs building to have our passports stamped for entrance into the country. We hopped into Edwin's luxury Land Rover (with cool air conditioning blasting!) as he welcomed us into his country. Edwin spoke perfect English, so Andi and I peppered him with questions about our border crossing experience. Edwin told us about an American family with small children he'd just helped cross the border. They attempted to cross without local assistance, and had received the wrong stamp in their passports (entry instead of exit). Without directional signage, they weren't sure where to go and peddlers at the border rushed them trying to steal their belongings. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that Andi thought wise to hire a service to help us cross. Our experience was smooth by comparison.

For the next 45 minutes, we drove along with Edwin as he shared information about his country and pointed out local landmarks. We passed Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America and the 21st largest in the world, and an island called Ometepe in its center formed by two volcanos. It is home to the bull shark, capable of jumping in the water like a salmon and surviving in fresh water. Wind turbines dot the sides of the paved two-lane highway around the lake catching wind and generating clean energy for the country. At one point we encountered a herd of cows on the road and a rancher moving them from one pasture to another. Our surroundings may resemble home but honey, we're not in the Midwest anymore!

Andi and I are staying at Morgan's Rock for our first three days in Nicaragua, about 20 minutes outside San Juan del Sur. My husband once again outdid himself in booking our trip accommodations: this place is what dreams are made of! Morgan's Rock is a 4,000 acre protected wildlife preserve with a private beach and 15 wooden bungalows overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The eco-lodge includes a working organic farm called El Aguacate where dairy, meat and produce are grown to service the property.

The minute Andi and I stepped foot in the lobby, we were greeted with hot towels and refreshing Macau cocktails made with rum, guava juice, orange juice and lime. It hit the spot after a long day of travel, and fondly reminded me of the first place Andi and I stayed on our honeymoon in Thailand. An employee toured us around the beautiful property before leading us to our ocean-view bungalow. The word breathtaking doesn't begin to describe it!

It was just before sunset, so Andi and I dropped our backpack (ha! lots of unpacking to do) and ventured down to the beach to catch the last few minutes of daylight. We had the entire mile-long stretch of beach to ourselves. Pinch me, we're in paradise.

Afterwards, Andi and I walked to the property's restaurant for dinner. We hadn't eaten much since breakfast and were both starved. Andi ordered the evening special, octopus gridding in a reduction of balsamic, and I had a chicken breast with grilled vegetables. It was delicious. We called it an early night and navigated the dimly-lit path, over the hanging bridge, to our bungalow in the jungle. Sounds of the ocean lulled us to dreamland.

1 comment:

  1. This is going on my bucket-list! Glad you two are getting a relaxing, kid-free vacation! :)