Monday, February 25, 2013

30 Countries

While I was in the US, one of my mom's cousins was talking about how her niece made a goal of visiting 30 countries before she turned 30 years old. She met the goal and continued to travel. This particular conversation revolved around her preparations for a solo trip to Colombia. While I am not yet ambitious enough to take on a Colombian vacation by myself, I am also not yet 30. In doing my 30 before 30, I wonder if I have made it to 30 countries yet. So I decided to compile a list, in no particular order, with a few photos thrown in for fun.

1. USA (does that count?)
2. Canada - Montreal, Niagra Falls
3. England - Lived for 5 months, visited London
4. Spain - Barcelona, Madrid, Conil de la Fontera (below), etc.

5. Netherlands/Holland - Amsterdam, Nordwik am Zee
6. Germany - Lived for 5+ years (Mannheim below)

7. Portugal - Algarve, Lisbon
8. Belgium - Brussels
9. Gibralta (below)

10. France - Paris, Marsellie
11. Italy - Rome, Florence, Pisa, Milan, Venice, Varenna (Lake Como below)

12. Finland - Helsinki
13. Denmark - Skagen, southern boarder towns
14. Norway - Oslo (below), Bergen

15. Czech Republic - Prague (below)

16. Malta - Malta, Gozo
17. Nicaragua - Managua, Little Corn Island

18. Japan - Tokyo (below), Kyoto, etc.

19. Bahamas - Nassau
20. St. Lucia (below)

21. Jamaica - Negril (below), Montego Bay, Ocho Rios (forthcoming)

22. Austria - skiing, Salzburg (below)

23. Switzerland - Zurich, Basel (living here)
24. Vatican - Vatican City
25. Lichtenstein - drove through
26. Luxembourg

27. China - Airport only - not sure this really counts (below)

Looks like I am not going to make it. From now until my birthday, I have one country in the works but that will only give me 27 total, 28 if China counts ;) Although there is a possibility I will remember a place I have forgotten. Either way, I'm quite happy with the places I've been and hope to continue to add countries and photos and experiences to my list.

Next up LCI Part 2.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Little Corn Island - 1

I'm back and I don't even know where to begin. Little Corn Island (LCI) was everything I hoped it would be plus ice and electricity. I mean I was prepared for warm beverages and flashlights but the upgrade was welcome. Since the information I found to prepare for this trip was mostly from blogs via Google, I intend to write a few detailed recap posts in order to provide an up to date resource for anyone who finds this via Google. To start, let's talk about travel.

The time and modes of transportation necessary to reach the island from Europe is what kept us away when I first found out about LCI in 2009. This time we were already in the US and could even book a flight on Delta from PVD so travel time was more manageable. Modes of transportation were still diverse as we had to take a normal flight into Managua followed the next morning by an early morning flight on tiny 12 seat plane operated by La Costena, the only airline serving the island. This is actually not the only option but size of plane depends on demand and we were there on a high demand day when the little and big planes both covered the route. On the way home we flew on the "big" plane which could seat about 50 people. It was interesting booking a flight on an airline that is the only carrier for  a route and supplies planes on demand. A ticket costs the same price all the time and people just show up an hour or so before departure and buy tickets.Clearly, we did not depart on time but it was interesting to see an airline operate like a bus service. I imagine this is how early air travel functioned in the US and Europe as well.

Back to our arrival, once the little plane landed at Big Corn Island, we had no problem to make eye contact and reserve a taxi driver outside the door of the shoe box airport. As a side note, the airport on Big corn is so small, they don't have metal detectors so everyone's luggage is searched by hand as well as sniffed by dogs (yellow labs) which may be more intense than metal detectors. The "taxi" was a beater and a half and the driver wanted to fill the car so we ended up in close quarters with 3 Brits we met on the tiny plane. You may be wondering how 5 people plus luggage could fit into this beater cab when cabbies in Boston won't even take 5 girls on a cold night. The simple answer is we didn't fit. We rode with the front door open, the guy sitting on the outside passenger's place holding it shut (I wish I had a photo but I was too busy laughing). The trunk was also wide open, backpacks hanging out. The windshield was also cracked but that had nothing to do with us. We had to travel the one road on Big Corn to get to the harbor. Along the way there were large speed bumps which our driver had to come to a near stop and take at just the right angle in order to pass. Even then, he could not avoid scraping the under carriage of his car on every. single. bump. It was an interesting ride that lasted about 5 minutes. We each paid our $1 USD for the transport and entered the port where we paid a tax that was something like $.50 p.p. While the taxes are rather insignificant, pay attention and bring small bills which don't have tears or markings on them. This is important because no one wants to make change for anything over a $10 and most just don't have the cash on them when a taxi fare is $1. I think the airport arrivals tax is $10 p.p. in Managua and then we paid another $6 on Big Corn. LCI has a departure tax of $3 if I remember correctly. The panga ferry (photos below) costs $6 p.p. as well so you see why you need small bills to make it through this part of the journey.

That's right, the boat needs a guide because the nose is so high out of the water, the driver can't see in front of him.

Since it was a popular time for day trippers, there were 2 boats, we had a race at one point. These are not racing boats.

Just as the island appeared into view, the skies opened up and greeted us with a nice downpour which lasted all of 5 minutes. It was just long enough for us to arrive, disembark, meet the guy from our lodge and walk off the pier to stand under a tree. 

Sufficiently wet, we are on vacation and still happy. After all, we stood in snow only a few days prior.

We walked through the island with the Doug who quickly became my best source of information on the island. He took us to the dive shack where we confirmed our reservation and also confirmed that it is literally a wooden shack. I was giddy with excitement and full of questions. those who know me would not be surprised, Doug did not know me but he did answer all the questions I could throw at him. I learned about work visas in Nicaragua (you must exit the country after 6 months), his hometown (Philly), the downed website for Casa Iguana (I didn't link for just this reason but find them on Facebook), Happy Hour on the island and some other less interesting bits I have forgotten. None of it really mattered when we got to Casa Iguana, removed our shoes to climb the deck stairs and saw the view from the lodge deck....

 Made me forget all about waking up at 4am and the insanity of racing pangas.

I would be happy to live here. 

Then we met Meg who took us to our Casita (cabin) and promptly noticed we were low on hammocks so she scurried off and returned with 2 hammocks for us. She pointed out that we have hooks on our porch and can find other hooks on the beach. I'm really not sure why other hotels don't provide guests with hammocks upon check in and hooks at various places to hang out. It was such a small luxury that we used daily. Once we hung our hammocks, we didn't want to leave this..

View from my hammock hung in the palm trees.

Quite possibly my favorite place on the island.

Our home away from home for 2 weeks.

As we were instantly falling in love with the island, I did the math. We could rent this casita for about the same monthly rent as our 2 bedroom apartment, less in the off season. By the end of the second week, we were, however, happy to have an indoor shower waiting for us on the mainland. But seriously, this is my paradise, I could get over the rain barrel shower if need be. Turns out the series on LCI may end up longer than I had planned, I will attempt to tell my story with less words in the coming entries. Here are a few gratuitous photos as a reward for making it to the end of this entry.