Kayaking With Penguins on the Western Cape

One of the most memorable and fun experiences of our South Africa trip was kayaking south of Cape Town. We needed another opportunity to commune with nature and animals, so we took a guided tour of the beach home to cape fur seals and penguins in Simon’s Town.

The two hour tour is called Paddle with the Penguins.  The two hour kayak in the bay allowed us to see penguins and more. We were really lucky with the weather, which was warm and cloudy, and the sea, which was calm.

Our guide, Terry, a marine conservationist with Shark Warrior Adventure Centre, was a trove of information about the penguins. He also led us near seals and sea birds and told us all about these marine animals and their home in Simon’s Town, all while guiding 8 of us through the very calm but busy waters of False Bay.

kayak penguin tour
Getting ready to kayak False Bay

Continue reading “Kayaking With Penguins on the Western Cape”

Spotting the Big Five in Kruger Park

Before I went to Kruger National Park – my first ever safari experience – I was excited to see ANY wild animals. I had heard of “The Big 5” but wasn’t even sure which animals were labelled within that group. We learned from a guide during one of the organized walks that this term originally comes from hunters. As a result, hunters considered the biggest animals the most important for their trophy cases and thus the Big 5 designation was created

It is a goal for many safari goers to see all of “The Big 5.” While this wasn’t my goal, the whole park experience pushes that as a priority. Each campsite has a couple of boards where people can mark their daily sightings of these most wanted wild animals, plus some other rare and interesting animals. Except the rhino. Due to these beautiful animals being close to extinction, the park will not advertise sightings of rhinoceros as a way to protect them against poachers. Because of this, a rhino sighting is a tough find.

For the most part, we drove around, did a couple of walking tours, and just enjoyed our sightings of all the animals and birds. But in the back of our minds, especially as the days passed, we did still hope to see all of the big 5.

Here’s a rundown on our Big 5 sightings in Kruger National Park: Continue reading “Spotting the Big Five in Kruger Park”

Solo Travel

Selfoe
It’s only been a week and a half, because I don’t count my time at Spanish school as solo travel. For one, I wasn’t travelling; I was living with a family. And, for another reason, there were other students to hang out with all the time. I was rarely alone. So, I have only been travelling alone for about 10 days, and I am glad it’s almost over.

There are a lot of things to like about solo travel. I was able to go see some amazing places that no one else I knew had the time to visit with me! I did it anyway. Plus, when alone, I can do what I want when I want. I generally don’t sleep late, so not having to wait for anyone in the morning is a plus. I also don’t take long to get ready, so not having to wait for someone else is good too. I can get up and go – get coffee, breakfast or start a tour at 7am. That’s nice. I also can decide on a whim to go to a museum or on a tour and not to have to sell anybody else on it. It’s all up to me. I also got to spend my downtime however I wanted. I got some good night’s sleeps (not easy with all the noisy animals in Nicaragua) and read a lot of good books on my iPad.

A lot of the time, for me at least, solo travel meant being alone. I don’t mind being alone. It gives me the opportunity to watch what’s going on around me and experience the world. But then it can also get boring. Or lonely. Meals especially. Who wants to read during every meal? Not me. I am done with it. The good thing in Nicaragua is a lot of the interesting sights involve tours. (You can’t visit most of the volcanoes on your own. They don’t allow it.) And most of those tours have involved other people. Volcano hikes, coffee tours, all of those have included other tourists to talk to. Most of the people who tour around Nicaragua have been very interesting too! I met a Belgian coffee processor, a Kentucky documentary filmmaker, Australian backpackers, an American retiree who volunteers to teach Nicaraguans sustainable farming techniques, and more. There was also my last night in León, where I spent a couple hours with Silke, my friend from Toronto, who had just arrived to town! That was a treat!

But most of the time, I was eating alone, riding buses alone and visiting museums alone. I got to see a lot of cool things, and I don’t regret it. I just prefer company! I am ready to end the solo travel and go back to being social.

Good timing too! Brian is almost here! Technically, he should be here already, but he wandered too far in the Mexico City airport and missed his connection. I really don’t know how it happened, but for me, it meant another night of meeting new people at the Managua airport hotel and reading my book. It’s been fun, but I am ready for company.

Today I head to Corn Islands. Hopefully Brian will be there too. It looks like a paradisiacal Caribbean vacation spot, with diving, lobster and beachfront relaxing in our future. Check here for photos.

Made it to Matagalpa: Facing My Solo Travel Fears

Leon to Matagalpa
Leon to Matagalpa

I asked around and did online research, and the only way to get to Matagalpa was 2.5 hours on the chicken bus. I barely slept on Friday night I was so nervous about the morning bus ride. Things I worried about: not getting a seat, losing my bags, missing the bus, getting robbed. You know what? It was awesome!

I got to the bus station early so I could get a good seat, and it worked. The bus driver gives out assigned seats! I got a window seat (score) near the back door (double score!). I was able to put my bags above me and a woman sat next to me and that was it for the whole trip. Easy peasy. Nothing like Rivas! I had worried for nothing. Continue reading “Made it to Matagalpa: Facing My Solo Travel Fears”

Melyna on The Go Stories

The time has really been flying and now Lyna is on her way back to Toronto. The Melyna adventure has ended, but we did have some good times, and some interesting ones. There are a few tales I have not yet told about our adventures, so as I move on to my solo Nica travels, I’ll mention some of the good, the ridiculous and the funny of the 10 days of “Melyna on the Go.”

Meeting other Canadians

There are a lot of Canadians in Nicaragua. We’ve met many from B.C. and Toronto and even a backpacker on the Ometepe shuttle bus from College and Ossington, but the best meet cute was in our hotel in Granada. The hotel included breakfast, but no matter how few or many people they were, the cooks couldn’t keep up with the demand. Lyna was wearing her Toronto Blue Jays shirt and went up to the counter to look for her pancakes. A tall man approached her carrying a plate and as he was asking her if she was from Canada, she asked him “Are those my pancakes?” Yes, she was from Canada, as were he and his friends, and no, they weren’t her pancakes, they were his. April, Lyna said you would appreciate that story. Her pancakes did come shortly after but included the wrong ingredients. Nicaragua! Continue reading “Melyna on The Go Stories”

The Natural Beauty of Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua

Yesterday we moved from Ometepe Island to Laguna Apoyo on the mainland, and we are very happy with the change.

Leaving Ometepe

We left Ometepe Island yesterday via taxi, lancha and another taxi, and 3-4 hours later we were at Laguna Apoyo. It may only be the resort we selected, but what a difference those few hours made.

Let me tell you why we were so happy to leave Ometepe – the only reason was our hotel. I struggled trying to get us a room on the Island to begin with – we did have a few parameters, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult. Wanting 2 separate beds in a room in Nicaragua seems to be a challenge for the hotels here. Be forewarned. Anyway, I found this place on booking.com and it was a great location and had decent reviews and was cheap. When we arrived, they tried to hold our air conditioner hostage. Seriously. They took the air conditioner remote with them and left us in this windowless basement room and walked away. I followed. Good thing I took Spanish lessons because now I knew how to call them liars. I still don’t know Spanish for scumbag. Need to ask around. I showed them our booking. Apparently, they tried to claim that it was $20 more to get air conditioning and that I hadn’t booked it with air conditioning. They had clearly not given an option on the online listing, and the listing said it included air conditioning. I showed them. Lyna and I sat down to lunch and debated leaving right then. But then, the receptionist seemed to realize her mistake, apologized to me and gave us the cherished air conditioning remote. It was unbelievable. First time I’ve had a hotel ransom the air conditioner remote. How about you? So that left a terrible taste in our mouths about that hotel and we were happy to leave. Continue reading “The Natural Beauty of Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua”

Things to Do in Granada: Gringo Street and More

Granada is a beautiful colonial city. Most of the tourist action is within a few blocks of the central park: hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions

Must Do: Climb to the top of Iglesia Merced

For the best views in the city, pay $1 to climb the circular staircase up a few flights (it’s not that high) to the top of Iglesia Merced. The exterior of the church is very pretty, but it’s the chance to peer behind the gated facades of all the buildings into (slightly) the courtyards beyond. It’s a popular tourist spot, but the climb is quick.

Iglesia Merced
Iglesia Merced

Continue reading “Things to Do in Granada: Gringo Street and More”

First World Problems

It’s been a pretty good life for me the past 2+ weeks- aside from really crap hotel management in Managua, of course! But, I do have a couple of issues with the way things work (or don’t) in Nicaragua.

Schedules that are not followed

Caso Oro Shuttles
The shuttle “schedule”

I am talking to you Casa Oro and other businesses in San Juan del Sur that claim to run daily shuttles to the beach! This is really a ridiculous complaint but other travellers to SJDS need to know. Lonely Planet and every other guide seems to believe that Casa Oro’s makes multiple daily trips to different beaches. They don’t. It’s a bait and switch. You show up for the 1030am shuttle to Remanso or 11am to Hermosa and they say “no. We no going there” and offer you the Maderas shuttle. Every time. OK this has has happened to me 3 times, so maybe that’s not a scientific sample but look who’s president of the U.S. now. Continue reading “First World Problems”

Things to Do in San Juan del Sur: Cristo de La Misercordia

There are a few other things to do in San Juan del Sur besides visit the beach – although the beaches are lovely! After one week, I’ve visited places that are tops on tourist lists, and some that aren’t. One of the first sites I visited was the statue of Cristo de la Misercordia, who sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean 134 meters up.

Estatue de Cristo de la Misercordia

A pretty easy walk up a mostly paved road, or you can drive most of the way if you choose, the view is worth it. You can walk right from the beach of Playa del Sur through a residential neighborhood to the top. It offers a 360 view of the main town beach and more. Admission is $2. There is even a little chapel in the bottom of the statue!

It was interesting checking out the spot. According to the display in the church, the statue is quite new and was only completed in 2009.  They did a good job because this is definitely a tourist attraction! Lots of tourists go, and apparently Jimmy Carter and his wife went a few years ago (there’s a photo of them in the chapel).

Cristo San Juan del Sur
View from the beach of Cristo

Continue reading “Things to Do in San Juan del Sur: Cristo de La Misercordia”

Don’t trust the b*#!ch receptionist at Hotel Europeo

I put my trust in the wrong person and I got fooled yesterday.  I feel more angry at myself for falling for her scam but I am going to explain what happened so others don’t get conned too.

First, don’t worry about me. I am fine and only out $80 so you don’t need to start crowd funding.  I am merely upset with myself for not being smarter plus angry at the hotel and their unethical receptionist.

In advance of my arrival in Nicaragua, I did some research on transport from Managua to San Juan del Sur, where my Spanish school is. I emailed both the school and my hotel in Managua enquiries about options. I ultimately went with the school’s taxi as it was a better price and I figured he knows the destination. And I emailed the hotel that I didn’t need their transport.

The hotel receptionist helped me get taxis in Managua on Saturday and was generally very nice so this is probably why I thought I could trust her. She asked if I was good for transport to San Juan del Sur and I assured her I was. When she asked when the taxi was picking me up, I told her 1230p tomorrow and that’s when she put her evil plan into operation. Continue reading “Don’t trust the b*#!ch receptionist at Hotel Europeo”