Annual Hipíco Festival in Cuapa, Nicaragua

Each year, cities in Nicaragua take turns holding an annual Hipíco (horse) festival, and each year, thousands of locals travel from all over the country to this festival. These locals ride their horses to these different towns or bring them in trailers so they can ride them in a parade.

When I was in Grenada, Nicaragua, my cousin told me about the festival that was coming up the next weekend in the town of Cuapa. He had been there previously and had friends who would love to meet me and show me their small town and festival.

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Meylin (left) and some of her family

I arrived in Cuapa after hitch hiking for about six hours. On my final ride, I asked if anyone knew Meylin Rey, the friend of my cousin. They knew exactly who I was talking about and took me to her house. Meylin and her family welcomed me into their home with the usual Central American hospitality – like family. They instantly offered me something to drink and eat, and showed me to the room I would stay in for the weekend.

The next day was pretty slow, except for a bit of showing me around the small town, we all relaxed around her place. The exception to the slow day was at lunch time. The day before I had told Meylin that I had been searching for “huevos del torro,” or the balls of the bull, while I was in Grenada. They helped me finish my search. I was served “sopa de huevos del torro,” or bull ball soup.

I love trying new and exotic foods, so although slightly disturbed that I was actually going to be eating these, I loved that I was able to eat them. I can not describe the taste, but they were surprisingly good. Would I eat them again? Maybe. Will I search for them again? No, I don’t regret eating it, but it’s not something I want to knowingly eat again.

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Sunday was the day the festival began. I wasn’t warned about its bang of a beginning. At 5AM, I was awakened by the pounding of drums and music of different instruments. The town was beginning the day with their annual early morning parade of local horses and music. About 100 locals of Cuapa paraded up through the town playing music and riding their horses. When the parade was over, I got ready, and Meylin’s older brother, Jose, showed up. He brought a horse to pick me up for our hour long ride up the mountain to the family “finca,” or, farm.

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This was my first horse back ride in quite a few years, so I really enjoyed the opportunity to ride again, no matter how painful to my rear! The farm was beautiful, situated in the mountains and surrounded by them, providing beautiful views. At the farm, I was greeted by Meyli’s other brother, Juan, and her father and other finca workers, along with the women in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

During the few hours I was at the finca, I was able to experience a few other new firsts. Meylin’s father took me over to the cow pen where the workers were milking the cows and showed me how to milk them. After milking one into a cup, I drank the warm, bubbly, milk on the spot. It was very sugary and delicious, but much like the bull balls, I don’t think I will be hunting cows to drink fresh milk again.

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After some time at the finca, I rode a four-wheeler/ATV back to Meyli’s house. Around two in the afternoon, about two hours later than it was supposed to start, some of the family and I climbed into a couple of cars and went over to a restaurant where the parade was beginning. Hundreds of people, locals of Cuapa and many more from other area’s in Nicaragua, rode their horses up the street into town.

They performed tricks like having the horses walk sideways and backwards or jump from side to side with their hind-legs while keeping the front hooves on the ground. Nearly everyone had cowboy boots, hats, and outfits on, and some dressed up in dresses and costumes. It was also a rainy day, so many had rain jackets and covers for their hats.

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After this second parade, we all went to the center of town where the parade led to. A couple thousand people were then crowding the streets. There were food stands, arts and crafts vendors, people selling sombrero’s and numerous other things.

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We wandered around the town center, watching the horsemen and women do tricks and show off their prized horses. Throughout the day, there was lots of music being played by locals, and towards the end of the day, there was lots of dancing to go with it!

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Meyli and I (kind of) dancing

The festival was a lot of fun and I highly recommend that anyone who ever gets a chance to go to one of these festivals, does. It is such a great cultural experience. Having the chance to immerse in a local (and not a tourist kind of local) annual festival and surrounded the culture of it all is an incredible experience!

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Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

I arrived at Quetzal Trekkers headquarters in Leon, Nicaragua at 7:30AM, a half hour before we were scheduled to leave. I found a group of four girls waiting outside for the door to open, and after a minute, we were all welcomed inside. I made the reservation with Quetzal Trekkers the day before by calling their office, and once inside, I told the man at the desk my name and he handed me the safety release form to fill out. I put my backpack in a locked room for the day and was given the gear I would use for the day. The gear was in a yellow stuff sack and composed of a yellow jump suit, gloves, goggles, and a filled two liter bottle of water. After another woman and man arrived and we all said our general introductions and at 8, we all climbed into the truck and started on the hour-long ride to one of the youngest volcano’s in the world; Cerro Negro!

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Upon arrival at Cerro Negro, we all climbed out of the truck and were officially introduced to our volcano-boarding-boards! These are pretty much just a piece of wood with a metal plate on the bottom and a wooden-tile kind of finish at the back to help it slide down the volcano, and on the top, two pieces of wood nailed on to prevent sliding off and a rope to hold onto. Once we were all out and had our boards, our tour guides, johnny and Rachel, started explaining the safety rules of going down the volcano. There are no ambulances or hospitals around, so although the guides have first aid kits, it is always a good idea not to get hurt. They explained that the best way to go down is sitting at the back of the board, holding the rope with both hands while your feet are off the sides of the board to control speed and stability. Another way to control speed is by leaning forward and back, the further back you lean, the faster you will go and vice versa. Johnny also said that if we want to ignore their safety rules, that was fine too…

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Rachel showing us how to sled

After we all said we understand the rules, we started on the hour-long hike up the rocky volcano. It was more difficult than expected; the rocks on the trail were unstable and every step was a struggle not to slip and gain leverage for the next step. We stopped about every 10 minutes, a total of four times, to make sure everyone was hydrated – on the second hike up, one of the ladies in the group fainted from a mixture of dehydration and anxiety, but after a few minutes of laying down and hydration, she was back up and ready to ride again! When we made it to the point we slide down, we put our gear down and continued onto the peak of the volcano.

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The rocky terrain of Cerro Negro
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The peak is just to the left

After taking some photos and enjoying the view, we all went back to suit up and get ready to fly! We all put on our yellow jumpsuits and once Rachel and Johnny were half way down the volcano to provide help if needed, one of the girls asked, “So, who’s first?” and the other man said, “How about the crazy one?” Well, I had just been nominated, not that I was not going to offer anyways! Remember when Johnny said that if we did not want to follow the safety rules, it was fine? Well, I have a habit of trying to do everything the most extreme way, so while most people go down on their butts as recommended, I tried to surf it!

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Our yellow jumpsuits!Screenshot_2014-06-09-13-20-19

Looks pretty good doesn’t it? Notice the people in the background; I had not actually started gaining any real speed yet. When I finally started, I started to regret trying to surf it, I was pretty much sitting on my feet, holding the rope in one hand and trying to maintain stability and speed with my one free hand – the hand that was holding my Gopro. Along with dragging my camera, in its case, through the rocks of Cerro Negro for about two minutes, leaving it nearly unusable, I also was nearly sideways the whole time because of the resistance on once side and on the way down, johnny called out to me, “Did you remember anything we told you?” I also ended up much dirtier than anyone else in the group! Luckily, on the second time down, I gave my camera, out of its case, to Rachel to record me; sledding this time.

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While not as extreme as surfing it, I gained a whole lot more speed and enjoyed it 100x more! Because it is necessary to use your feet to maintain stability, they end up shooting rocks at you the entire way down, everyone ends up with tons of small rocks in their hair and dirt all over; I even coughed up a rock! The experience was incredible, definitely a bit of an adrenaline rush, although if it is not a big enough rush for you, it is possible to take a bike to the park and ride a bicycle down the volcano; you can even try to break the record speed of 172KM/H! If you decide to do this, it is about 30KM ride away from Leon to the volcano and only a $5 entrance fee into the park, so you can save money too!

I decided to go with Quetzal Trekkers instead of some other, more popular and populated tour groups for a few reasons; first, they are a not-for-profit organization, all of the guides are volunteers, and also rent their boards from another not-for-profit called Sonati Tours. Second, unlike the other companies, they give two opportunities to go down the volcano instead of one, so at $30 per person, which is the average price, they are definitely the best value. Third, the smaller group of 7 was much more enjoyable, calm and easy to be with over the other, larger, louder, and more chaotic groups of around 20, such as the popular Bigfoot Hostel group. At the end, they fed us a delicious lunch of vegetable sandwiches, I had 4, along with cookies and like the other companies, they gave us a free t-shirt. Rachel and johnny were both very nice and fun to spend the day with, I am really happy I decided to go with Quetzal Trekkers!

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Rachel, Johnny, and myself

I am currently communicating with Sonati Tours to get information about board rentals to solo travelers or small groups so to avoid the additional costs of the tour company, although they were definitely worth it and it does not seem there will be too much money to save either way!

Have you ever done an unusual type of boarding or tried to do something the harder way in hopes of it being more of an adrenaline rush and it ending up failing such as mine? Leave a comment; I love reading stories!

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Total Cost – 23 Days in Central America

Ever wonder how much it costs to spend a few weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua while following my travel advice? This post has outlined my expenses for the past three weeks; the first third of my trip!

Flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico with layover in Fort Lauderdal, FL to San Jose, Costa Rica – $130.98

Food for two weeks in Costa Rica (including four days at a friend’s house, during which, I was given food) – I ate rice and beans, some meats, fruits, a lot of peanut butter and jelly (Goober brand) sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, and along with other foods, brownies! – $49.23

Food stand in Monte Verde, CR
Food stand in Monte Verde, CR

Food for one week in Nicaragua – I have been much less conscience about what I’m eating here, eating pretty much whatever looks good, ice cream, shaved ice, cookies, different breads, meats, gallo pinto (rice and beans,) chicken, and a variety of other foods, I also bought one beer for one dollar. – $45.80

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Gallo Pinto Breakfast

Hostel for one night in San Jose – $10. Hostel for one night and one days use of another hostels facilities in Nicaragua – $8 – Total – $18

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Meat in a Bag from a Street Vendor

Three souvenirs – $14.18

Tours, guides, and park and country entrance and exit fees – The exit fee from Costa Rica is $7.00, there are no fees for Panama, the Entrance fee into Nicaragua is $12, $30 for Volcano Boarding, and $25 at Monte Verde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica – $92.18

Buses and Ferries – $15.13

Ferry Ride to Ometepe, Nicaragua
Ferry Ride to Ometepe, Nicaragua

Other miscellaneous purchases such as earphones, sim cards, and replacement gear, a hair cut, first aid, and maps (before I found the offline Mapswithme app) – $38.76

Money I have been given during hitch hiking – $2.09

Total: $402.17

After twenty-three days of traveling the average is $17.48/day

Without flight – $402.17 – $130.98 = $271.19/23 = $11.79/day

Without flight and tours/entrance fees – $271.19 – $92.18 = $179.01/23 = $7.83/day

While my total expenses are averaging at $17.48 per day right now, the longer I travel, the less it will become. By following the current and future tricks and tips of my blog, it is possible to reach the actual amount of less than $10 per day, even with tours and excursions!

Here is proof that traveling can be cheaper than you ever imagined, so make a sign and get going!

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Make a sign and get going!

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My 15 Hours In Masaya National Park

I am just going to get it out-of-the-way; sometimes, I break the law. It is generally trespassing, but I can not say I have not broken other laws, especially the drinking law in the US, because after traveling and being allowed to drink, there is no going back! Now, if you want a blogger who follows all of the laws, is an upstanding world citizen, and travels in general luxury on around fifty dollars a day, then look somewhere else, because that is not The Travel Economist, but if you want a crazy blogger who travels on about ten dollars a day while having incredible and unique adventures, adventures that very few others will ever experience, adventures that you can not pay for (thankfully!) then you have found the right guy!

I had been up for two hours already (5.45AM)
I had been up for two hours already (5.45AM)

Around in the town of Masaya at around five-thirty at night and made my way over to the Masaya Naional Park entrance. I already knew that they were closed and that they have night tours, so I knew I was not going to legally get in that night, and if I did get in, I would have to watch out for the tour. The guard was still at the gate, so I asked him what time they open and closed and for a map of the park to study for the next day; not a complete lie! Then to pass the time, I walked over to the town of Nindiri to get some dinner and food for breakfast; I made it back over to the gate at 7.30. I found not one, but two guards at the gate and figured it would be nearly impossible to sneak past them, so I decided to go over and tell them the truth. I told them that I have no good place to camp for the night and if, even though the park is already closed, I could camp out there. I got the permission, and with that, I was legally in the park! But only to sleep in the restroom area right inside the gates. I figured, “no problem, they will not have guards here twenty-four hours a day!” – I was wrong! I never expected a national park to pay for guards all night long. After going to sleep in my sleeping bag at eight and waking up at three forty-five in the morning, I packed up my stuff and got ready to head into the park to reach the peak by sunrise, but right as I was leaving, the guard was coming! My heart raced and I quickly came up with a plan, I decided to set my stuff down and sit down next to it. If he asked, I would tell him I simply could not sleep, and packed up my stuff out of boredom so it would be ready for morning. Luckily, he just said, “Tranquillo?” (relaxing?) I told him, “Si” and he went on his way, an hour later, I was on my way!

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“Do Not Enter” has no meaning to me!

I walked for about an hour and a half before making it to the main crater. I walked to the left and saw a sign that read something like, “300MTS to caves, available with night tour by guide,” and headed down the road to it. There are some trails throughout the park, but most of it is a paved road. I walked down to the unmarked, but obvious, trail that led to the cave, and once I found it, followed the carved stairs into the cave created by the volcano. The photo above is not of the main cave, the main cave has a pretty big entrance and no signs, also, the trail ends at it, so it is not to be missed. After walking a minute into the cave, the only light was that of my headlamp, after a couple of minutes, I reached the main attraction – an area filled with a couple of hundred bats! This was my first experience in a bat cave, I have always wanted to get into one, but never had the chance, so this was amazing to me. I stayed in the cave, mesmerized by the bats, a bit nervous and very excited, for about a half hour before leaving due to a dying head lamp and the worry that someone would find my backpack that I left near the entrance to the trail as a precaution – if anything happened to me (having no helmet on,) then they could quickly find me knowing that someone must have taken the trail to the cave.

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In the bat cave formed by lava

When I headed back to retrieve my gear, I saw a man standing with it with a curious look on his face, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, I am in trouble.” When I reached him, he was not upset, he simply said to me that leaving my stuff there was dangerous – it was still only seven-thirty in the morning, the park was not supposed to open for another hour and a half and I did not expect anyone to show up for at least another half-hour, but he was a local, working with the cattle and horses that roamed the park and did not work directly for the park. I thanked him for looking out for my stuff and we went on our own ways; I, obviously, relieved and thanking God that he did not report me!

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I continued back up to the volcano area again, explored a bit more of the park, and at eight-thirty, started walking towards the entrance of the park. At just past nine O’clock, a van of workers passed me with the most curious looks as to why this tourist is coming down from the volcano only a few minutes after it opened, but, they did not stop. Others passed me in the same manner. When I finally reached the guard gate at just passed ten, I stepped over the chain that prevented cars from entering or exiting without paying, said, “adios” to the somewhat confused guard, and was on my way to my next destination having had free entrance into the park, and safe place to sleep, and a day of the park all to myself!

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I am not sure if this tactic is duplicable, it was difficult and relied on the main security boss’s decision to let me in and the guard at the gate being less than alert. As you can see below, there is a road that goes from thee Nindiri area following the Masaya Lagoon and into the parks camping area. I considered taking this route, but decided the distance was too far to go by myself at night and it was possible that I would not be able to get in that way anyway. The man who found my stuff along with a few others came in from the cave area, which leads me to believe that the route is able to be used to enter the park after closing and without having to worry about the guards, or by taking one of the roads from behind, such as the Panama road.

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There are two other options to having access to the park for the night; the first is to enter the park before three in the afternoon, you will then be allowed to enter because you have enough time to go to the top and back before five; while you are in the park, find one of thousands of different hiding spots to hide out at until around eight or later, the later, the better. At this time, all of the night tours and guards will be out of the park and at the main gate area or at the camping area. You then have access to the park to yourself.

The second option is to do as the first option, but, instead of hiding, register for the allocated camping area, and then, around two or three in the morning, sneak past the guard and into the park.

It is also important to note that during their rainy season, May-mid-November, often, the weather creates too much smoke in the volcano’s crater to be able to see the main attraction of the night tours – the glow of lava in the crater! I met a group who had just finished the night tour, and they could not see anything.

To enjoy the park legally;

Park opens: 9AM

Closes: 5PM

Night Tours: 5PM and 7:30PM $10

Entrance fee – non-residence – $4

So, have you had any close calls while trespassing or any similar situations to mine? Leave a comment and let me know, I would love to read about your stories!

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Hitchhiking?!

Ever wonder how to cut out some extra expenses while traveling? While in many countries, buses are very cheap and are the budget travel solution for many backpackers, they still cost money. If we want to cut out every expense possible, try hitch hiking to get rid of extra travel fees. We may only save fifty cents on some buses, but we could save twenty dollars or more on others, and even those fifth cent buses add up. There is a general idea that hitch hiking is too hard or too dangerous, but it can be surprising how many great people are willing to help out a complete stranger with a ride, and sometimes much more; I have been given free food, drinks, and even money during my rides. I have fallen in love with hitch hiking, it is a great feeling when a vehicle pulls over to the side of the road to offer you a ride and you have a chance to make some new friends!tmp_IMG_5252768895265-1207574808It is true that hitch hiking is not always a walk in the park, but the best experiences in life often come from a bit of struggle! I have often had to walk for hours, sometimes in the rain, before someone would stop to give me a ride. I was also robbed once, a man left me at a gas station and drove off with my backpack, but even with this, I have never experienced any real danger. “You could be getting into a car with a serial killer!” This is a true risk, but the “serial killer” is also inviting you, a possible killer into their vehicle; it is a situation that relies on mutual trust and respect. Although there are risks, use this guide to reduce the risks and increase the likelihood of catching rides from tourists, locals, and even taxi’s and buses!

Have a sign!

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This is a very important part of hitch hiking. When I first started trying to catch rides, I walked for a full day without getting a ride for more than a mile. The second day, I started thinking and decided to go to a local store and buy a black marker and some paper so that I could create a sign. I went to a traffic light on a popular road that lead to my destination and held it up with a smile. In less than a minute I heard a honk from a car stopped at the light and saw the driver waving me over, I hurried over and hopped into the car and we were on our way to my destination.

Sign rules:

1. Spell correctly

2. Make it legible and as large as possible

3. Black on white works best

4. Use popular destinations – for far destinations, use shorter destinations as mid-points

5. The sign does not have to have a destination! – Writing North, East, West, or South in the local language works well too, sometimes better than a destination, because the drivers do not know how far the destination is and will not worry about feeling obligated to go very far.

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Where to Catch Rides:

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Decent place to catch a ride – a lot of cars coming

1. Get on a road that goes straight to the destination

2. Find a busy road, the more vehicles, the more likely it is to get a ride

3. Busy traffic lights are best; drivers can read the sign and have a few moments to decide to give a ride or continue and are already stopped

4. Highways can work, but places where cars are traveling at less than 50MPH are best

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Where not to hitch hike

Dress Code: How you look is important.

1. No hats, glasses or anything that can cover our heads unless necessary – ladies, pull your hair back if it is long.

2. Clean shave is best

3. Men; short hair is best, although a crew cut is not recommended

4. Well fitting clothes are best

5. No dark clothes and make up

6. Take out facial piercings

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How to catch the ride:

1. Make eye contact with the driver

2. SMILE!

3. If walking, turn around and face traffic to follow prior rules

4. If there is another hitch hiker around, find another spot, or wait your turn

Keep in mind, it is harder to catch a ride in the rain.

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I can’t stop smiling in the back of a pick up!

Safety Rules –

I do bring any weapons with me – I prefer to trust in people and believe in God for my protection

1. Always take our stuff with us when exiting the vehicle, even if just using the restroom

2. If the gear is in the back of a pick-up truck or trunk of a taxi, leave the door open until we have our gear or do not exit the vehicle until the driver has also exited

3. Remember, we do not have to take every ride offered; if a driver looks dangerous, we can tell him/her that we will wait for another

4. It is more dangerous to hitch hike at night – it is also much more difficult if it is necessary

This guide to hitch hiking will greatly reduce the difficulty and danger of hitch hiking along with aiding in the creation of great friendships, experiences, and memories. So grab your sign, put on a smile, and go meet some new people!

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-The Travel Economist

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