The wheels of my plane touched down on the runway of Quito's international airport last Wednesday, effectively ending the first chapter of the trip, and starting a new one. Central America was actually much more interesting and fulfilling than I had anticipated. For whatever reason, this region of the world has never held a lofty place in my traveler's mind. I've of course always had a desire to pass through, but never in the same romantic sense as the mountains of Argentina, the jungles of Kenya, or the sands of Egypt.
Admitedly, I traveled a little faster than I probably should have, seemingly spending almost as much time on a bus as in a hostel. I also didn't get too far outside of the capital cities, which I know to some travelers is a travesty, but to be honest, I'm ok with it. As many many Central American countries see a majority of thier population clustered around major cities, I feel I got a pretty good look at at least one side of the story.
I will say though, Central America was a great way to start this little adventure. I learned a lot about traveling, and traveling light. About eating and eating right. About how little repair automobiles actually need to keep running. About trusting strangers and taking leaps of faith. About how bad my Spanish is, and how glad I am that pretty much every culture outside the US makes their kids learn more than one language.
I don't know the best way to close out my time in "Centroamerica". It seems kind of hollow to summarize an experience by simply stating "it was great" or "I wouldn't go back". There's so much more to it. I'll try it a different way. Below are a few random anecdotes and thoughts and I captured along the way. Enjoy. And thanks for following along.
- Eight countries in three weeks is a lot, no matter how close together they are.
- Buses are not built for people over 6'5".
- If you find yourself in Belize City, find your way out. Quickly.
- If you're heading to Guatemala, Antigua is a "can't miss".
- You can't flush toilet paper in a lot of the toilets. You have to throw it away in the trash. Yes, I know.
- Showers in Costa Rica are warmer if the pressure is lower.
- Everyone should hike a volcano.
- As a rule, the bus drivers are terrible. Find a seat with a handle.
- I don't get scared too often, but Guatemala City fit the bill. I'll remember the ride into the "Guate" bus station at 5:30 in the morning for the rest of my life.
- Canadians travel really well. They are everywhere. Scandinavians and Australians are following closely behind.
- There are a lot of really beautiful women wearing some amazingly skin-tight, low cut, head-turning clothes.
- The word "gaudy" doesn't exist in Central America.
- There are a lot of fat, white Americans in San Jose speculating on land opportunities.
- Postcard stamps are really big in Costa Rica and Panama.
- The NFL playoffs will draw Americans to some strange places in the world, including crappy, run down casinos in the middle of the San Jose red light district.
- There are a good number of women trying to wear amazingly skin-tight, low cut, head-turning clothes that shouldn't be. And they don't care.
- Border crossings on a bus are a pain in the ass. It just depends on what degree.
- Panama City, Panama is a cool up-and-coming place. The historical center is making a comeback from years of neglect, and the new town bears an eerie resemblance to the Manhattan skyline. "The Donald" is apparently sinking a bunch of money into new hotels and shopping areas. It should grow even more if the new plans for the expansion of the canal are approved.
- Based on the unwavering stares and giggles, not many people in Central America have seen a 6'9" white guy walking around their town.
- Everyone should see a ship go through the Panama Canal.
- Twin bunk beds are not comfortable.
- A lot of showers in Central America have huge plastic heads with electrical cords running into them.
- Always have cash at the border.
- The popular national beers of each country pretty much all taste the same.
- Bus drivers will let absolutely anyone on board to sell absolutely anything.
- Everyone in Central America has a cell phone.
- The national currency of El Salvador and Panama is the US Dollar.
- It's somewhat disturbing when taking a shower to see a thin trail of smoke coming from the old, worn electrical tape on the wires running into the huge plastic shower heads.
- Always carry your own toilet paper.