How 4 months in Central America changed my life
Updated: 2 days ago
*Please note that I travelled Nicaragua before the protests in 2018 and the following crisis. I am not sure about the state of everything at the moment, but the situation hasn’t been resolved, there are still protests happening and I have also heard from people that had things like their cameras confiscated at border control, so inform yourself properly, before you plan a trip.*
Ending a life chapter & finding meaning
In 2017 I had enough of my office job.
I was browsing the internet for different jobs, volunteering options and travel destinations, but wasn’t really sure what to do with myself.
My boyfriend worked for a youth and sustainable development organisation at the time that offers 13-week programmes all over the world, and one day, after I had heard so many exciting stories from him about people that had gone on a programme, I finally signed up.
After a few months, all arrangements were made and it was clear that I was going to Nicaragua & Costa Rica for 13 weeks on programme, and an additional month to travel by myself.
Where am I going?
To be completely honest with you, before that, I had no idea where to find Nicaragua on a map and during my months of preparation I found that that was the general consensus; people tended to say “Oh wow, Costa Rica, how amazing!! But where is…the other one?"
Despite being the largest country in Central America (more than twice the size of Costa Rica), Nicaragua is not as developed and doesn’t have nearly as many tourists as the latter (which can be both a good and a bad thing).
I won’t go too much into the volunteering part of it all, as that’s enough material for an entirely separate post.
But enough prologue – let me talk about my travels!
2.65t co2 per person (What does this mean?)
I flew from London Heathrow, via Atlanta, to Managua – the capital of Nicaragua.
From there we got picked up and driven to Masaya, a city about 31km/19 miles away. The place where we stayed was right in front of Masaya Volcano, one of Nicaragua’s most active volcanoes!
We went into town the first night and while I was sitting in that big square, with a delicious fruit smoothie in my hands, it hit me.
Girl, you’re on the other side of the world right now and that for the next few months!!
Can’t describe that feeling to anyone, I was just filled with happiness!
Exploring Masaya & its surroundings
During the first two weeks of my stay, we did a few trips and excursions around Masaya, one of which was driving up to the crater of Masaya Volcano, to “the Mouth of the devil”, la boca del diablo.
We went after sundown and were given a limited time to spend up there at the crater (for safety reasons). It is plenty of time to take pictures and take in the spectacle.
It was such a surreal experience, looking into the crater, seeing the red glow and even hearing the lava move inside. Still gives me shivers thinking about it!
Less than an hour away from Masaya is Granada, a colourful colonial city, with lots to see and do! It’s full of history with many museums to visit, impressive old buildings and picturesque houses (can you tell I’m very knowledgeable?). We spent half a day there, which wasn’t nearly enough to experience the city properly, but enough for me to fall in love.
I hope to be back one day.
Masaya is also known for its Artisan market, the Mercado de Artisanias de Masaya, which is in the middle of the town. It’s great for getting souvenirs for family and friends, but the prices are relatively high, since it’s such a tourist magnet. I couldn’t stop myself from getting a cheesy Nicaragua t-shirt and a little bag pack that I still use today!
Trekking Nicaragua's country site
My favourite part about being in Nicaragua was our trek. We did 250km over 19 days around the Esteli and Leon departments. I’ve never done anything like it before and it’s been the best thing I ever did for myself. The places we saw, the people we met and the conversations we had are things I will never forget. Here’s a few impressions of Nicaragua’s beautiful landscape.
On one of the last days, we got up at 2am to walk up Cerro Negro, another active volcano and the youngest one in Central America. There is a walkway up somewhere, but we couldn’t see it, so we decided to just climb up at one of the steepest points. It was challenging and must’ve taken us about 2 hours to get to the top. Looking back at it now though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The star-filled sky during our ascent was what kept me going, while I was on all fours and literally crawling up.
We watched the sunrise on there and enjoyed the breath-taking view. Some parts were fuming, smelled of sulphur and were hot to touch. As if we needed another reminder that we actually were on an active volcano.
It was on trek, while being immersed in beautiful nature and my own thoughts, where I first had the idea of starting a blog. I didn't know yet if it was going to be a travel blog or more about sustainability, but I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.
Life in a National Park in Costa Rica
After Trek, I spent about 6 weeks in Costa Rica. I lived in the Guanacaste area in the north-west of the country for the Natural Resource Management projects. We stayed with the park rangers of the Rincon de la Vieja National park. And these people are amazing, let me tell you that. So knowledgeable about nature - they knew everything about which animals to find where and when, which tree or bush was growing where, which insects to find near them and so much more. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, as they were always eager to share their knowledge and sometimes even their dinner. They introduced me to the true meaning of pura vida (“pure life”), a slogan you can find everywhere on T-shirts, mugs, magnets, but in places like these, you see why it has become the country’s motto.
Here I (re-)discovered yoga and meditation for myself; if you ever feel like something's blocking you in your mind or that you just can’t get into these practices – try it surrounded by nature. It makes such a huge difference.
I will talk more about Costa Rica in my travels post, as I returned later for 3 weeks of backpacking.
"Endex" - my last days in Nicaragua spent in Leon
At the end of my volunteering experience, back in Nicaragua, we all drove to Leon, the second-largest city of the country. Leon has everything a traveller’s heart could wish for – beautiful architecture, interesting museums, stunning beaches and a vibrant night-life as it’s a student city.
We went to Las Peñitas, one of the beaches a bus-ride outside of the city. We celebrated the end of our experience by playing in the huge waves, having piña coladas in one of the many bars and hostels right next to the water, soaking in the Pacific sun and watching our last sunset together.
At university I learned that you surpass the “tourist” or “visitor” status in a new country after 3 months. After having lived through every emotion possible, staying and communicating with locals in Spanish, local dishes all day every day (I will never have enough of gallo pinto – the central American take on rice and beans), I’m not sure which status I have there now. What I do know is that I’ve left a piece of my heart and that those months in Central America have changed and will stay with me forever.