Uncornered Market » Nicaragua http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Thu, 25 Jun 2015 17:46:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Six Years on the Road: A Journey Becomes Lifehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/six-year-travel-anniversary/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/six-year-travel-anniversary/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 19:41:23 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=12356 By Daniel Noll

We just celebrated. An anniversary. Six years. On the road. Why am I addicted to sentence fragments? Anniversaries, they help mark time. They remind us to remind ourselves to admire our arc, our path through the world in time. No, not to admire it in some self-satisfied way, but to admire that there’s a process […]

The post Six Years on the Road: A Journey Becomes Life appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

We just celebrated. An anniversary. Six years. On the road. Why am I addicted to sentence fragments?

Celebrating our 6-year anniversary on the road, with a break, a bench, a #sunset
Celebrating our 6-year anniversary on the road in Nicaragua — with a break, a bench, a sunset.

Anniversaries, they help mark time. They remind us to remind ourselves to admire our arc, our path through the world in time. No, not to admire it in some self-satisfied way, but to admire that there’s a process of growing, changing, evolving, and continually understanding that our lives are portions of an unbroken circle connecting all the dots of who we’ve become. Anniversaries invite us to step back to view the path we’ve helped to unfold — a path that takes us from where we’ve been to where we are, all peppered with hints and imaginations of where we would hope to go.

This particular anniversary of six years passed almost without notice. “How could that happen?!” you ask?

Our response? Life. You find yourself putting together a workshop on a Nicaraguan beach, and believe it or not, you can get a little lost. Then you look up from your cup of coffee one morning and think, wait a minute, didn’t we leave a pork butt behind in Prague six years ago yesterday?

Yes, six years. Sometimes it feels like just a few days, sometimes it feels well beyond several lifetimes. You know how that feels, I’m sure.

Audrey and Dan having Drinks by the Beach - Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
The salad days of our journey: Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand in December, 2006

When we set off, we’d imagined 12-18 months. You could say we miscalculated, just a spec. We’ve made decisions, had discussions — some might even call them arguments (yes, we are human) — and our approach and the “why” is continually reaffirmed from within and from without.

What does that mean?

I suppose the inner compass, with all its confusions and magnetic pulls in occasionally unproductive directions, always brings us back to making our way through the world in a manner that brings meaning, meaning that is continually and surprisingly reflected back to us by others.

A Little Perspective in Three Stories

Story #1

In Nicaragua, a colleague and newfound friend commented, “When we die, when we leave this Earth, we can’t take our stuff with us, we can only take our experiences, our memories.” You might say there’s no checked bags or carry-ons when we leave this life. Thank you for your spirit, Selena.

Story #2

On our flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, around hour 14 of a monster travel day, we had the good fortune to sit next to a retired career American serviceman on his way back to Afghanistan as a private contractor. He would be away from his wife and children. This was profoundly difficult, I can only imagine. It’s Christmas after all.

In any event, he’d seen so much, yet still so much struck him wide-eyed. We told him of what we’d seen and felt during so many of our trips. But when we mentioned visiting Iran last year, his eyes really opened and his jaw dropped ever so slightly. He almost hesitated to ask, “How was it? What happened?”

We shared a few stories, from the continual invitations from ordinary Iranians we met on the streets to the incredible kindness we experienced on the train from Iran to Istanbul. I even pulled out my iPhone and showed a few photos of the architectural jewels of Shiraz and Esfahan.

The world is sometimes not as we’re told it is,” he said, continually tilting his head in wonder, shaking his head in disbelief. Thank you, Will – for your service and for reaffirming for us so much about what can be right in this world.

Story #3

Finally, on just about every turn of this journey, thanks to the unnamed many who shed continual light on our good fortune with sentiments like this: “Six years, you must have been everywhere.”

Well, no. We haven’t been everywhere. And even if we had, there’s always something left on the table, notwithstanding all the changes undergone by places we’ve visited since we’ve visited them.

We thank every one of the people who echo this sentiment and remind us that there’s always more to explore and learn. They reaffirm that it’s always a good idea to unpack, if only to take a moment to take stock of what you have and what you’ve done, what remains and why you’re doing it all.

Perhaps most importantly, they imply that we should never take anything for granted.

Looking to Year Seven

Six years ago, words like “digital nomad” and “professional blogger” weren’t really in our imaginations, much less our lexicons. So our “journey” has become more than one of just travel; it has become our life, our lens, our business. Our imaginations are stretched by what is and what could be. Honestly, it can feel intimidating at times.

So what do you do when a journey and its various pieces come together as one? Recently, we took a private look back to the very beginning and reflected on why we got started on this journey in the first place to guide us — to the themes of exploration, continual learning, stories, meaning and creativity.

The world and all the things we learn, they all take time. They are delivered to us at their own pace. And if we rush too much, we run the risk of missing the little things.

Likewise, if we just wait for things to happen, they may never do so.

Independent of the results, life as a process is pretty fascinating.

And just in case you are wondering: I am addicted to sentence fragments because sometimes you have to unpack and take apart what you have in order to understand what you’ve built.

It’s with this spirit that we begin our seventh year of this journey. A year we hope is one of continued surprises, shared lessons and good stories.

Thank you for being part of it.

The post Six Years on the Road: A Journey Becomes Life appeared first on Uncornered Market.

http://uncorneredmarket.com/six-year-travel-anniversary/feed/ 33
The Golden Plantain Awards: Central America’s Best and Worsthttp://uncorneredmarket.com/central-america-best-and-worst-travel-experiences/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/central-america-best-and-worst-travel-experiences/#comments Sat, 05 Sep 2009 04:41:57 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=2295 By Daniel Noll

As we close out our reflections on Central America (don’t worry, food comes next), we are reminded of the places and moments — the good, the bad, the idiosyncratic, the illustrative — from our zigzag chicken bus journey across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Let’s dig in. 1. Best Cemetery – Xela, Guatemala A […]

The post The Golden Plantain Awards: Central America’s Best and Worst appeared first on Uncornered Market.

By Daniel Noll

Hondurans on Street Curb - Copan Ruinas, Honduras
Hanging out in Copan, Honduras.

As we close out our reflections on Central America (don’t worry, food comes next), we are reminded of the places and moments — the good, the bad, the idiosyncratic, the illustrative — from our zigzag chicken bus journey across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Let’s dig in.

1. Best Cemetery – Xela, Guatemala

A school trip to the cemetery? Sounds morbid, doesn’t it? Not if you’re visiting the public cemetery in Xela (Quetzaltenango). Almost all the graves are built above ground; the wealthy hire artists to build impressive mausoleums while ordinary folks rent space in concrete drawer-like chambers.

The result is an an eye-catching panorama of colors and shapes and a walk through Xela’s history. If you are studying Spanish in Xela, consider taking your teacher for a walk to the cemetery. It will make for great conversational practice and photography.

Public Cemetery, Fisheye - Xela, Guatemala
Xela cemetery.

2. Most Grueling Bus Ride – Marcala, Honduras to Perquin, El Salvador

A hole in the bus floor, roads washing away before our eyes. The only improvement made to our bus in the last 30 years: a stereo system playing the same two songs on infinite repeat. After its suspension – a Rube Goldberg reinforcement of rope and wooden shims – collapsed en route, the driver tied it all back together with chains purchased in the village where we broke down. 45 kilometers (25 miles) in 4.5 hours.

Watch the video below if you don’t believe us.

3. Most Heavily Armed Ice Cream Parlors – Guatemala

Guns bristle on the streets of Central America, but where else will you find ice cream parlors guarded by men with double-barreled shotguns? That would be Guatemala.

4. Most Relatives Living in Maryland – El Salvador

We don’t kid. We are here to report that almost everyone in El Salvador has a relative living in the U.S. state of Maryland.

Maybe the relatives’ reports back to the homeland have something to do with #6?

5. Best Market – Antigua and San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala

Antigua gets the award for its color and accessibility. San Francisco El Alto for its animals.

“Antigua? But it’s such a touristy town.”

Agreed. However, if you venture back into the market past the souvenir and pirated DVD stands on Saturday, you’ll find an engaging Guatemalan fruit, vegetable and flower market that is both colorful and friendly.

Overflowing Fruit Baskets at Antigua Market, Guatemala
No shortage of fruit…

Who doesn’t love an animal market? Squealing pigs, braying sheep, stubborn cows, aggressive geese, rambunctious puppies. The best one in this part of the world can be found in San Francisco El Alto in Guatemala’s western highlands.

Our advice: arrive Thursday evening and get up on market day at 5:30 AM to enjoy the scene as people pour in from the hills. Some animals are said to trade hands two or three times until they end up with their final buyer who will take them home.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market, Sheep for Sale - Guatemala
Animal market section at San Francisco el Alto.

6. Most Copiously Supplied Toilet Paper – El Salvador

Now what would a collection of superlative impressions be without a dose of scatological humor?

It was our impression that Salvadoran guest houses — from the most inviting to the most grim — seemed to enjoy refreshing our toilet paper well beyond our needs. Our room may not have been cleaned, but two fresh rolls appeared daily.

We wonder: what gave Salvadoran hotel staff the impression that gringos need at least one roll of toilet paper per person per day?

No Confusion about the Public Bathroom - Rivas, Nicaragua
Bathroom confusion.

7. Most Ridiculous Swine Flu Inspection Question – Honduras

Particularly in Honduras, we were scanned, questioned and otherwise perfunctorily inspected regarding whether or not we had been within a breath of H1N1, the dreaded swine flu.

But of all the questions posed to us, this was by far the most absurd:
Q: “Have you been around anyone coughing?”
A: “Try every bus in Central America!”

We applaud Honduras’ efforts to control swine flu, but how about a question that wouldn’t result in the entire country’s quarantine?

8. Most Beautiful Sunrise – El Hoyo Volcano, Nicaragua

The reward of climbing two volcanoes in one day: a clear sunrise view of Lake Nicaragua, the surrounding volcanoes, and a rainbow. Almost too perfect to be real.

Check out the panorama photo at the bottom of: Are We Too Old To Be Climbing Volcanoes.

Slight Rainbow Left - El Hoyo, Nicaragua
Rainbow at dawn at El Hoyo Volcano.

9. Most Bizarre Quote – Guatemala

After hiking four hours straight uphill en route from Xela to Lake Atitlan, you too might find the following quote from our Quetzal Trekkers guide amusing: “In Panama I met this crazy Indian. He lectured me about God and after three days he tried to touch my ass.”

10. Most Sobering Quote – Guatemala

It’s easier to build roads than it is to fix education.” A Guatemalan friend explains her government’s approach of demonstrating “progress” during election time while avoiding long-term solutions that address the country’s ills.

11. Most Absurd Reason to Stop a Bus – Rio Dulce to Flores, Guatemala

Under the guise of a police stop, our bus from Rio Dulce to Flores pulled over and all passengers were forced to exit.

The reason: our bus required a new sticker indicating its destination. As the sticker artisan proudly affixed his work — a giant flaming “Flores” the entire width of the windshield — over 70 people were kept waiting for 20 minutes. As he hand-ironed the air bubbles, the sticker man asked us our opinion.

“Bonito!” (beautiful), of course.

He flashed us a proud, gold-toothed smile and we were on our way.

12. Best “Power to the People” Moment – Nicaragua

Our bicycle rickshaw driver on the Honduras-Nicaragua border had his friend pose as a bus ticket salesman to swindle extra money from us. It worked. That is, until the Nicaraguan women on our bus got involved. They refused to let it slide and demanded that the real ticket guy chase the scam artist down.

He did. And we got our money back, to applause.

13. Best Chicken Bus Souvenir We Didn’t Buy – Guatemala

Long-distance buses in Central America resemble little WalMarts on wheels. Vendors course the aisles selling anything and everything: hand-whittled back scratchers, cheap pens, cheaper razors, magic markers, snake oil and all manner of pills and elixirs to fix what ails the body from the fried snacks hawked on board.

Chicken Bus Vendor - Marcala, Honduras
Time for a bus snack.

So what’s the best thing we didn’t buy? Spirograph. Yes, the old childhood favorite that hails from the pre-video game era.

The vendors hawking Spirograph do so with an energy that implies it was invented yesterday. No shortage of miracle-inducing promises either, including that your child will ace all of his classes. Loved the demonstrations, too.

14. Most Frightening Boat Ride – Livingston to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala

Cue “the Minnow would be lost” theme song from Gilligan’s Island.

As the clouds darkened, the captain of our 12-person lancha (boat) passed up a thick plastic sheet. We put it on our laps: “How nice of him to think of us.” Then he yelled, “Put the whole thing on you! Now!!”

In seconds, we were met by a wall of rain and harrowing swells. The remaining thirty minutes passed in a dark, choppy blur as we huddled under our plastic covering and weathered the storm.

15. Most Animated Chicken Bus Preachers – Guatemala

The long-winded fervor with which Guatemalan evangelical preachers, worn bibles in hand, take to the aisles of their country’s chicken buses is impressive.

There exists some divine irony though: the oft-repeated phrase “Gracias a dios.” (thanks to God) begins to sound a lot like “Gracias, adios.” (Thank you, goodbye.)

16. Best Waterfall – Finca El Paraiso

We usually don’t mix waterfalls and superlatives, but Finca El Paraiso features an unforgettable nature-made combination of a thermal sulfuric waterfall spilling into a pool of cool, clear water. Commune with nature and a pleasant mix of tourists and leisure-seeking locals spreading themselves with the curative mud that lines the bottom of the lagoon.

To get there, take a minibus from Rio Dulce one hour and walk 15 minutes until you reach paradise.

Finca El Paraiso Waterfall - Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Finca El Paraiso Waterfall

17. Worst Hotel – La Esperanza, Honduras

If the movie Hostel were filmed in Central America, Hotel Urquia would provide the set. We watched the attendant clean our room, but the dark, leprous walls and prolific spider webs lent our dank quarters a slasher-film quality. The blankets looked like they might get up and walk out on their own. Adding insult to injury, the $14 price tag could fetch us relatively luxurious accommodation in many parts of Asia.

18. Best “We Are About to Be Eaten” Moment – Tikal, Guatemala

On the edge of Tikal National Park, we were jolted from our slumber at 2 A.M. by what sounded like jaguars howling outside our tent. We stiffened, trying to determine if they were getting any closer.

What we would do if a jaguar jumped on us?

We later found out that the ominous sounds were made by Tikal’s own howler monkeys. From their perches in the tree tops, they serenade the park all day, all night. Although we didn’t get much sleep, we recommend tenting in Tikal.


We know, we know. What about Costa Rica, Panama and Belize? When we get around to visiting them (after South America), we’ll be sure to give them their due. Until then, we focus on the CA-4 (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua).

The post The Golden Plantain Awards: Central America’s Best and Worst appeared first on Uncornered Market.

http://uncorneredmarket.com/central-america-best-and-worst-travel-experiences/feed/ 8