What do you do when you’re craving the beach, the ocean, Spanish life and adventure, yet nobody else around you is up for the thrill? You go solo, baby!
I flew into Costa Rica and took chicken buses the entire way to Playa Gigante, Nicaragua. What’s a chicken bus, you may ask? It is a pimped-out school bus that crams as many people as possible, with one trip (even hours long) being no more than $2 USD. Technically this could be done in a day with a bit more planning, but since I seriously lack in that department I had to make a pit stop in San Juan Del Sur to avoid night travel.
San Juan is a cool city to club jump and shop. It has a tourist-city, party, hostel kind of vibe, so I personally wouldn’t spend more than two days there. More time than that and the tourists begin to look the same, especially on Sundays with their “I’m a tourist and paid $30 USD to party” Sunday Funday shirt. Okay, I admit, I did not partake in Sunday Funday, and my friends did say it was a great party, so the hostel-crawl could have been fun, but I’d rather skip it and have plantain chips and beer by the beach. To each their own!
After a few days of hustle and bustle I was relieved to make it to Playa Gigante. I had a local meal right away (rice and beans, plantains, avocado and cheese), a lot of water, and met my host family. Unfortunately, it turned out to be much different from what I had expected. Family stay is a very common practice in Central America, however, the family I was set up with was a little too far off the beaten path than what I would have liked. Thankfully I ran into two lovely expats who led me to Camino hostel- a lively, musical, beach-side hostel, out in the open and full of people.
Walking through the one-road town was nothing short of wonderful; there were more pigs and chickens running around than dogs and in five minutes I learned that the best way to travel is by jumping in the back of someone’s pick-up truck or motor bike. I also learned that my ears could sweat…. phew, that is some real heat.
Ten American dollars per night is the standard going rate for a hostel around Gigante, however, I like to save money, so, after meeting a few volunteers I joined the team. I started bartending the next day to earn my stay and daily lunch. This drastically changed my vacation expectations…One week? How about three? Three weeks? How about five?
Al Camino became my home away from home and the other volunteers my travel family. They were the people I shared everything with; daily yoga, breakfast, arguments before coffee (true sibling style), nightlife, work and play, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to surround me. Gigante Bay is a beautiful, quaint fishing town, sitting on a stretch of white beach, lined with coffee shops, local restaurants, surf shops and hostels. It has a special small-town feel that can only be felt with experience and time. After only a few days every face becomes familiar, making a long-term stay a little more special and a lot less lonely. I loved recognizing and getting to know the owner of each hostel, the fishermen, the jewelery makers the teachers, and of course, the expats.
Every day after morning yoga I walked down the beach to attend my four-hour Spanish lesson. It was definitely hard to concentrate with the waves crashing right before me, but I managed, somehow. The school, Pie de Gigante Spanish School, is a government recognized school as well, so credits are transferable. It takes place in a bright, sea-green beach house with a sun-bleached golden straw roof, doubling as a restaurant called Doña Lin’s. Mama Lin, the owner, welcomes every guest as a child of her own. Before every class I would hear “Hola amour!” shouted across the room, with a kiss and a hug before every departure. Classes are one-on-one and we would often pair up with other students for group activities. Even with waves, fresh mangoes and puppies (and pigs) distracting me along the way, I managed to advance from beginner to intermediate in three weeks. If you’re looking for a spanish school, I highly suggest this one!
Gigante will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’ve learned a lot about people,life, laughter, focus, and of course, I can now hold a conversation in Spanish! Goals!
Towards the end of my trip a beautiful soul approached me to let me know that he had over heard me telling my friends that I wanted to venture out to Ometepe Island, but didn’t feel like making the trek alone. Turns out him and his girlfriend were heading in that direction and invited me along! So off I went, sharing a mattress with their three dogs in the back of a van.
Travel is beautiful. It opens the heart and warms the soul…. I am so grateful for this trip and for everyone who made it as relaxing, adventurous, exciting and peaceful as it was. Thankyou!