Unlike me, not everyone has the luxury of taking 6 months off to turn their dreams into reality and travel around south America. And so if you can only spare 3 weeks or a month, I have the perfect option for you; Central America. In the last 3 weeks I've travelled through 5 different countries, snorkelled in the Caribbean sea, surfed the Pacific ocean, climbed into volcanic craters, explored pristine rainforests and partied in huge Metropolises. There really is something for everyone here, and it's still cheap enough to fill every day with activities.
The first stop on my whistle-stop tour was the Miami-skyline styled Panama city. Having finally wrestled back control of the worlds most famous canal, Panamanians are growing fat from the profits of a burgeoning economy and they want everyone to know about it. The huge American-style shopping malls are definitely not where I chose to spend my days -save for one visit to McDonald's - but if you want to dress like a celebrity for half the price you're in the right place. Due to time pressures, I only spent one night in the natural wonderland that is Costa Rica, and so I'm not in the least bit qualified to describe it. However, from my brief glimpse it seems much more suited to expensive nature tour groups, and has priced itself out of attracting the backpacker crowd, maybe intentionally.
The next country on the northbound trail is Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America. The first town we reached set the tone perfectly. San Juan del Sur is an idyllic little surf town, with just the right amount of backpacker-orientated amenities and a hostel perfectly suited to partying with a view, the Naked Tiger. The jewel of Nicaragua, however, is the real life-Jurassic Park, Ometepe Island. A treacherous jungle hike up one of the islands volcanoes offers stunning views of the island's other active volcano, Conception, and at the top you find yourself in a lagoon, in a volcanic crater, on an island, in a lake. You just couldn't make this otherworldly environment up - especially seeing as the lake contains crocodiles and the worlds only freshwater sharks!
Nicaragua is also home to one of the best hostel ive ever stayed in. A few kilometres south of the colonial town of Granada, exists a magical place, the 'Tree House', and never has a name been so apt. Set in one of Nicaragua's many jungle-clad national parks, this environmentally-friendly construction looks right at home, nestled high in the rainforest canopy. Rope brigdes, monkey-viewing platforms, and yoga decks high in the trees create a setting that could've been used in the Lord of the Rings films, and all for $8 a night! Swinging in a hammock in the open air bar, watching the sunset while howler monkeys played in the trees around me certainly goes down as one of my favourite evenings on this trip.
I decided to skip straight through Honduras, because apparently a blown-out and reconstructed ear-drum isn't conducive to being able to dive. However, if your body is in working order, and you are even remotely interested in diving, the Utila islands in Honduras are one of the world's best diving spots. For me, I bused it straight into El Salvador, one of the smallest and least-travelled countries in the region. Cheap Mexican food, $1 beers and excellent waves make this a Mecca for backpackers and surfers alike, the perfect place for a chill for a few days. It took 3 days of underwater somersaulting to realise that I still can't surf anything taller than a chicken burrito, and so I ended my fledgling surfing career with dignity, by retiring to my hammock with a cold beer in hand.
All of this positivity about Central America brings me to the reason behind this blog post. In my very first rambling, I talked about trying to find a middle way, combining a life on the road and constantly meeting fascinating travellers, while still being able to put some food on the table come supper time. One possibility of achieving this would be to build and run a hostel, and I believe that the inter-continental spit of land in which I currently find myself is a very plausible potential location. It's quite cheap, because it remains an up-and-coming backpacker destination, not yet attracting the hoardes of travelers that South America does. It has Caribbean beaches, volcanic islands, great food, world-class surfing, fascinating ancient Mayan culture, and many other facets besides. Not that it is completely undiscovered; the Tree House was built by a Texan, the Naked Tiger hostel by Canadians, and The Zepher Lodge by an English guy.
Building and running a hostel is never going to hugely profitable, but if, like me, you value lifestyle over material wealth and social standing, this could be perfect. The laid back pace of life, the spectacular settings, and the fun-loving people encountered at hostels have made this more than a passing thought for me. On that note, if any of your reading his would be interested in joining me in such an adventure, you know where I am. Well, you probably don't, but you know how to get hold of me. Come on... the mundane life at home will always be there as a back up, come and join me living the dream!