As a younger man, I traveled far and wide – seeking a diversity of experiences. From a trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro and the wildlife-rich plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania to the hustle & bustle of London and the history and culture of Great Britain. From the fantastical landscapes of New Zealand to the stereotypical tropical island paradises of French Polynesia in the South Pacific. And, of course, many places in Alaska from the coast of the Arctic Ocean in the north to the towering trees in southeast’s temperate rainforests to the epicenter of wild salmon in Bristol Bay. I guess I’m fortunate that my parents took my brother and I on lots of vacations around the USA – it instilled a sense of adventure and a desire for discovery in me.
Recently, our travels have found us zeroing in on a part of the world a little closer to home, but one that feels a world away at times. We’ve been traveling to Central America and Mexico for the past few years. It started with a chance to visit a friend’s lodge off the Caribbean coast of Belize. Belize is pretty easy – English-speaking and all. We spent our time fishing and snorkeling along the Western Hemisphere’s biggest barrier reef, and visiting Mayan ruins on the mainland.
Next, and only on the whispers we’d heard from friends who’d not been there – only heard of it – we decided to check out the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Yes, the country of Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista revolution, Oliver North and the Iran contra scandal. Readers of this blog are probably less apt to write off Nicaragua and not give it a chance as a destination than many people – our relatives included. “Is it safe? Aren’t they fighting a war there?” We heard that sentiment many times. Fact is, those things did happen – and Nicaragua at one time was probably pretty unsafe to visit. But that’s decades ago. Today, Nicaragua is showing up on all sorts of travel lists and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications. People say it’s like Costa Rica twenty years ago. We’ve been back to Nicaragua three times since that first visit – so you can rightly assume we like it down there. We’ve been up and down the Pacific coast and explored the centuries-old colonial cities of Leon and Granada. It’s someplace we are looking to establish a more semi-permanent (and eventually really permanent) presence.
We’ve also been to a few of the bigger resort areas in Mexico but tend to use them as points of entry via their international airports, get away from the crowds, and stay in smaller places that are more off the radar.
The culture, Spanish colonial architecture, the food, the rum & tequila, the beaches, the volcanos, the coffee, the fishing, the wildlife, the slower pace of life, the friendly people – all are reasons we have come to love Latin America. It also doesn’t hurt that I don’t have to shovel snow down there. The world’s a big place, and I’m sure I’ll keep sampling other parts of it. But Latin America has grabbed me, and I’m not wanting it to let go. Now back to my Espanol lessons…