Costa Rica’s reputation for having the worst public transit system held steadfast today as our 6:00am bus did not come until 7:30am. Though we would be fine with it on a $1 chicken bus, when we paid $12 each (the most we paid for a bus on the entire trip) we were not impressed that there was no other reason than they cancelled another ferry. The two hour ride from Malpais to Paquera was long and windy so we were both feeling sick for the one hour ferry and the two hour bus from Puntarenas to Alajuela. Our bus could not get into third gear so we chugged down the Interamericana highway at 40 km/h.
We found a hostel five minutes from the airport and five times too expensive but we were excited for the complimentary continental breakfast the day of our flight. We dropped our packs on our comfortable bed then scoured the city for ingredients for our delicious veggie fried rice. Running on just a few hours sleep from the Saturday night party in surf ville Malpais, we hit the sack by 8:00pm but not before answering the interview questions as requested by our blog readers.
Please note that we answered the questions separately and did not discuss them beforehand so any similarities in the answers only support our belief that we are the best travelling partners ever!
Q. What are three things you were glad to have brought?
Alyssa: Life Saver Water Bottle, swiss army knife and our clothesline
Jim: Life Saver Water Bottle, crocs, Alyssa (much more useful and cuter than a pocket translator)
Q. What are three things that you wish you had brought?
Alyssa: Camping dish set, a massive bag of trail mix and the carbon filter for the Life Saver Bottle (it removes bad flavours from the water which we desperately needed in Belize)
Jim: More good books, a compact camping dish set and a jumbo bag of trail mix
Q. What three things did you bring but not need?
Alyssa: Mosquito net (which we desperately wanted to dispose of but feared Martha’s reaction), bicycle lock and pillows
Jim: Mosquito net (this was bulky and never used once), pillows (also bulky and used rarely), heavy bike lock.
Q. What was your favourite country, town, hostel, person, and attraction?
Alyssa: Guatemala – richest cultural experience with the widest variety of diverse landscapes and attractions
Jim: Guatemala – for the diversity of landscapes (mountains, lakes, volcanoes), sights (Mayan ruins, lakes, volcanoes, colonial towns), food and people
Alyssa: Merida – small community feel where everyone knew us, visited us and invited us to their homes. Meaningful connections with old and young
Jim: Merida – the friendliest people on earth live there. The lake, sunsets and volcano views were great as well
Alyssa: Posada Las Brisas in Granada, Nicaragua. A spotlessly clean room with an immaculate private bath including large towels, soap and a shampoo that had a great lather. It included all the amenities like kitchen, internet, TV, hammocks and new sheets changed by our cleaner. (Not so great when spit man lived beside us but otherwise PURE LUXURY).
Jim: Posada Las Brisas in Granada. Straight up, best value.
Alyssa: Ara from Sarteneja, Belize because of her laugh, her heart, her gifts, her hugs and her delicious and filling food.
Jim: Noldan from Merida, Nicaragua. At 17 he was the most mature, sincere, happy, welcoming, productive, positive and friendly youth I have ever met.
Alyssa: Tikal. It was unlike anything I have ever seen.
Jim: Tikal, where the power of nature and civilization collide.
Q. What was your least favourite country, town, hostel, person, and attraction?
Alyssa: Costa Rica – no culture, locals, markets, chicken buses or friendly hostel owners
Jim: Costa Rica – no chicken buses, markets or friendly locals to learn from
Alyssa: Masachapa, Nicaragua. There were no greetings from anyone and no smiling among locals
Jim: Leon, Nicaragua. The unbearable heat is magnified by dirty streets and unhappy people
Alyssa: Hotel Vista del Mar in Masachapa, Nicaragua. This was a disgustingly smelly and dirty bathroom with no shower curtain, toilet seat, a sink falling off the wall and a manual on/off switch for water. The owners were terribly rude and refused us water and tablecloths.
Jim: Hotel Vista del Mar in Masachapa. No toilet seat, shower curtain or service. The room smelled and we got the evil eye when we asked for things like toilet paper.
Alyssa: Big Lady from Hotel Vista del Mar because she ignored us completely and sucked up to all the rich guests
Jim: Masachapa Staff. If I did not adopt a Ghandian philosophy of non-violence, some fists would have been flying there for sure.
Alyssa: Montezuma Beach. I had higher expectations and when I first saw it my reaction was “hmmm” with a shoulder shrug.
Jim: Churches in Leon: Meh!
Q. What did you miss from Canada?
Alyssa: Family and Friends. I missed my grandma’s 80th birthday, Tessa learning to say my name and Ben and Liz’s engagement. I missed towels, apples, good shampoo and the cold!
Jim: This one is easy. Baby Tessa and Mikey. After family I would have to say good chocolate and even though I get on her case for it, my mom’s baking…mmmm….butter tarts and brownies!
Q. What did you not miss from Canada?
Alyssa: Driving in the snow and the obsession with technology (cell phones, ipods, laptops, and especially texting)
Jim: The monotonous, routinized, creativity stifling, predictable, comfortable, individualistic, consumer driven life of the city.
Q. What was the most unusual experience you had?
Alyssa: The most unusual experience was being escorted by three policemen in their patrol truck to Cerra de la Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala. The men held machine guns in their laps and while looking out the window we saw armed guards outside banks, grocery stores and even bakeries.
Jim: Being snowed on by volcanic ash.
Q. What events did you experience as brand new and life changing?
Alyssa: Every experience was brand new and allowed for comparison to our lives back home. The chicken bus rides, the exchanges at the markets, the desire for locals to invite complete strangers into their homes and the ability for individuals from different cultures and languages to communicate were daily events that opened our eyes to the differences in our world.
Jim: The nine hour sail boat ride from Sarteneja to Caye Caulker. This was completely spontaneous and since we did not know our Spanish speaking crew from a hole in the ground, we needed to have confidence in ourselves and trust the goodness in our fellow man. Since taking gringos on this trip was a first for our Sarteneja sailors, we strayed far from the typical and created our own path. We did this at the beginning of our trip which set the tone for the remaining 83 days.
Q. What is the most important lesson you learned?
Alyssa: The most important lesson I learned is to confront fears because fear can prevent you from discovering your strengths and abilities and prevent you from engaging in life changing experiences. Also, we both realized quickly how very little we need to survive. The power of simplicity.
Jim: That due to fear many people unnecessarily live lives of quiet desperation when adventure and passion are all around us. I also learned that one of my greatest skills is to want very little.
Q. What would you do differently?
Alyssa: I would have learned more Spanish before arriving although our language barrier led to many exciting adventures. I would have spent more time exploring countries in detail and I would organize a homestay in the future.
Jim: I would bring my parents so they could experience life on the road and allow for more time so spontaneous volunteering is more available.
Q. What advice do you have for people who want to go backpacking?
Alyssa: I would encourage everyone to do a backpacking trip and to form your own opinion of another country. We are quick to make judgements based on media and other facts about danger and safety concerns from family and friends. However there is danger in every country and as long as travellers are informed and sensible, an adventure awaits in any new destination. The lessons learned are plenty and the stories are endless.
Jim: First, choose a destination that is vastly different from home. Second, limit yourself to a bare minimum budget. Third, do not plan in advance. Fourth, pack very little. Finally, do it now! Seriously, right now!
Q. What did you learn is the purpose of our lives in the universe? And is the universe aware of our lives?
Alyssa: Throughout the trip, this question has come up many times and although we discuss it at length, we seem to generate more questions than answers. We know the Dalai Lama’s answer to this question is to find happiness and I agree with his philosophy, but I also believe that our purpose is to learn and grow to be better human beings. Forming deep and meaningful connections with others, stepping outside of our comfort zones, learning of our strengths and abilities, reconnecting with nature and inspiring others are critical for our physical, mental and spiritual growth. After sitting by the vast ocean and admiring the beauty of waterfalls, I realize how insignificant we are and how the universe is unaware of our individual lives but together, humans have a large impact on the world and so we must contemplate our purpose and make a conscious effort to lead meaningful lives.
Jim: Adopting a philosophy based on ecology I would ask if our purpose is any different than any other living being. What is the purpose of a salmon, a blue jay, or a chimpanzee for that matter? Why do we humans think that our purpose is any different than our most common denominator? Since self awareness is a product of evolution, I do not think the universe is aware of our lives like we are aware of ourselves. But in a superficial way, our ecosystem knows of the great humans as a cancer plaguing all of life. Thus, maybe our purpose is to learn from all other living beings and try to live in harmony with all life.
Q. Put your experience in one word. What would it be?