Road Trip Part 3: Jessie's Alive! (also known as, DENVER!)

While we were in Iowa, we were really torn if we were going to go to St. Louis or Denver next.  We had a date we needed to be to Adam's sister Julie's in Red Lodge, Montana by, and we went back and forth for most of the week before settling on heading to Denver for four nights and South Dakota for a night before arriving in Red Lodge on Thursday.

We left Davenport expecting the worst - everyone says Nebraska is one of the worst states to drive through; truthfully, it wasn't that bad.  Having done our food research, we planned to stop for lunch at Crescent Moon in Omaha - the reuben sandwich was invented in Omaha, and Crescent Moon has the original recipe from where it was created (a hotel across the street).  And, well, it was really freaking good.  Not too overstuffed, really good flavors, and just delicious.  The bar was great, too.  It had a decidedly local feel to it, and wasn't too crowded since University of Nebraska's football team was on the road at Oregon that day in a game that wasn't going to start for another couple of hours.  Tummies full, we continued on our journey.

Reuben from Crescent Moon.

Crescent Moon

I have a friend from college who lives in Denver - I had texted her earlier in the week and hadn't heard back from her.  I texted her again when we were in Denver, and she replied immediately, all apologetic.  While we stayed in a hotel the first night (it was late and we just wanted to crash), we ended up staying at Jessie's the next three nights we were in Denver.  She was a wonderful hostess, and it was so good to see her and hang out with her.  The biggest shock I got was that apparently she now loves football, especially Clemson football, and records and watches all the games.  This is a girl who, when we were in college, once wanted to know why Woody (as in Dantzler, the Clemson quarterback at the time) wasn't on the field when Clemson was on defense, not realizing that offense and defense are different players.  It was great to see her and pick her brain about Denver a bit, including cost of living, rent, buying, etc.  For those who know Doc (her cat - she got him when she started med school), he is still alive and pretty well, and has mellowed out SIGNIFICANTLY since I knew him in Columbia.  He took quite a liking to Adam, and I think he misses us.

Doc really liked Adam.

So weird to see places where you can buy weed.  Legally.

Denver was the first of the cities we were visiting that we wanted to check out for livability, and it was awesome.  The weather was incredible - 90 and sunny, but no humidity so it was comfortable.  The people were friendly, the traffic was non-existent (despite what Jessie said about bad traffic).  We spent a couple of days wandering around downtown and nearby neighborhoods, and we spent one day in Boulder.  Boulder was beautiful - a gorgeous college town - and we checked out a brewery that Julie had recommended (turns out Jessie's sister also loves Avery Brewery).  We also found a candy store that had both horchata taffy and horchata soda (we did not drink the soda until our drive from Vancouver to Portland, about 3 weeks later.  It was not good).


Horchata soda.  It was not good.

Avery Brewery

A boulder in Boulder.

Downtown Boulder.  Awesome town.

However, after Boulder, we made the decision to drive down to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Twister.  Red Rocks is an outdoor amphitheater where they have concerts and movies and other performances.  Every Monday during the summer, they show a movie, and September 11 was the last one of the season.  It was about an hour drive, but we got there with the perfect amount of time to take some pictures, get our seats, and get ready for the night.  They had an opening band play for an hour, and then a horrible comedian, and then, FINALLY, the movie started around 8:30.  Twister itself was pretty good, I had never seen it, but the experience of being outside with a big audience made it that much better.  The crowd was very into it, and it was just fun.  But the best part of the whole night was when we left at the end of the night, along with everyone else, and hit ZERO traffic back to Jessie's - it literally took 22 minutes.  I can't stress how incredible this was to two people who are used to NYC metro area traffic.

Red Rocks

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Almost time for Twister to start!

And, of course, the state food for Colorado - a green chile burrito.

After a great breakfast with Jessie, we took off for South Dakota and what I was most excited for on the trip - Mount Rushmore!

Road Trip Part 2: Is this heaven? It's Iowa.

So if there's one thing I have been DYING to do since we started dating, it was go to Field of Dreams.  Most people know I love baseball, and Field of Dreams, well, just, I've always wanted to go.  Unfortunately, we're usually there in December, and as Adam bluntly put it before my first trip to Iowa, corn fields in the winter are literally dead and there is nothing.  We did go to Iowa in September a couple of years ago, and Denise was so excited to take me to Field of Dreams, but what she didn't know was that the reason we were there was for a surprise party for her and Mark - so didn't get there that trip.  But this time, this was a week without plans in Iowa during the summer, and we were determined to get there.  Denise looked into it, and there was a celebrity softball game on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.  She got tickets for the four of us, and we headed out on Sunday to Dyersville, Iowa.

Adam watched this movie called Spinning Plates a few years ago.  It focuses on three different restaurants, from three very different places - a small Mexican restaurant in New Mexico (that has since closed), Alinea (literally one of the best restaurants in the world, located in Chicago), and Breitbachs, a local restaurant in Iowa that has been around for 100 years, burned down twice, and been rebuilt twice.  Breitbachs is only 30 minutes from Field of Dreams, and is somewhere we've been wanting to check out, so we stopped there for lunch before baseball (softball).  Going back to previous posts where I talked about eating the state food in each state - for Iowa, it was specifically a pork tenderloin sandwich from Breitbachs.  Adam and Denise both got that, Mark and I both got the buffet, and we were all sufficiently full by the time we left.

State food for Iowa - pork tenderloin sandwich from Breitbachs.

View from Breitbach's - more hills than you expect for Iowa.

Field of Dreams is exactly what you expect.  The house, the field, the cornfields - it's all so familiar and homey.  This is something they do every year, and it was very well planned out and organized, down to autograph times and prices and lines (we chose not to do that).  They did run out of water at the concession sales for a time, but they still had beer.  We got to the field around 2:00pm, and spent the afternoon listening to interviews with the players, taking pictures, and watching A League of Their Own (they set up a screen and projector and played the movie around 4:30pm.  It was pretty cool just lying in the outfield grass watching a baseball movie).  At around 7:00pm, they started the player introductions, with players coming out of the cornfields, and the game started around 8:00pm or so.

Walking out of the cornfields.

Finally made it!  I have so many pictures from our day here, it's ridiculous.

Cornfield selfie.

The athletes (all former MLBers except for Hope Solo) were:  Ferguson Jenkins, Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, Reggie Jackson, Wade Boggs, Mark Grace, Frank Thomas, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Hope Solo.

Sunset as the Black Sox-ers came out of the cornfields.

The actors were: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, and Tony Todd (completely unknown actor who even took a dig at himself, saying the only reason he was there was because he's been a good friend of Charlie Sheen since childhood).  Apparently it was Charlie Sheen's birthday that day, and in a cringeworthy moment, they had him speak.  I wish I had recorded it, with him talking about the hot chick Jules standing by the bleachers.

The cast of Major League - Roger Dorn, Ricky Vaughn, and Jake Taylor

The game was actually pretty good, although I will say that Ozzie Smith was the only one who could actually still play - he was defensively responsible for 4 of the 6 outs in the first two innings.  After the game, they played Field of Dreams on the projector (didn't stay for much of it, only the first couple minutes).

I mean, he could probably still play in MLB.

Mr. October.

Wade Boggs may have been drunk.  So may have Jack Morris and Mark Grace.

The rest of the week was very laid back and relaxing.  I ate my way through local Iowa places - Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches, ice cream from Whiteys, pie from Village Inn.  We cooked our awesome roasted chili brisket for everyone, got to Iowa City to see my cousin Brian and his family, and even got to see Adam's sister Lauren at the end of the week since she was in town for a wedding.  We had a cook-out for Denise's birthday on Friday where we got to see friends and family, and headed out on Saturday morning for a long day of driving to Denver!

Whitey's Ice Cream for dessert.

Maid-Rite for sandwiches.

A really poor attempt to go kite-flying.

Road Trip Part 1: Cherry Springs, PA and Chicago!

Like I said in the last post, we got about 10 minutes into our trip when we noticed the aux button was not working.  Knowing that we would be driving through long stretches of the middle of nowhere, this was going to have to get fixed, but we'd manage for the first stretch.

Our first stop was the Dark Sky Preserve in Cherry Springs, Pennsylvania.  It's in north central PA, a couple of hours from South Williamsport, PA - also known as the home of the Little League World Series, which had ended two days before our arrival.  I love dark skies and tons of stars (one of my favorite memories from college was driving out to the dock at Y beach with Chris and Sus and watching a meteor shower in the middle of the night.  This was either junior or senior year, and Ash and Stace got too freaked out about going out there at 2am, so it was me and a couple - thankfully I don't remember being too much of a third wheel), and this was a place we'd been wanting to check out for a couple of years.  So, at 10:00am, we were packed up and headed out from NJ.  It was an uneventful drive though a whole lot of nothing (anyone who has driven through PA knows that it is an incredibly boring state to drive through with tons of trucks), but we made it to the campsite by 4:00pm or so.  We had bought a tent a few years ago but had never actually used it, so we were giving ourselves a lot of time to set it up just in case - turns out it is SUPER easy to set up.  Adam played around with making a fire (successful!), we went on a quick hike around, had some dinner (sandwiches, nothing we had to cook), and waited for the dark skies and stars...except it was incredibly cloudy and we saw nothing.  While that sucked, at least my first camping experience (aside from Acatenango) was a success.  We woke up with the sun the next morning, and we were on the road by 6:45am for a looooonnnnnng day of driving to Chicago.

Success!  We set our tent up with no problems.

Wandering around the Dark Sky Preserve.
Adam got a fire going!

The drive, for the most part, was pretty uneventful.  The worst part was stopping for gas at this Exxon station in the middle of nowhere, New York.  I had a headache, so I asked Adam to get me a Coca Cola.  Not complicated, right?  While he goes inside, I start filling the tank, and it is the slowest gas pump I've ever used.  A guy pulls up on the other side, starts filling, and asks if mine is painfully slow as well.  I tell him yes, and then he tells me that this happens every once in awhile.  So while I stand there pumping gas for over 20 minutes (and of course there's no notch to leave it, I have to hold it the whole time), Adam comes out and says they don't have Coke, and no small bottles or cans.  He gets me a tallboy size Cherry Coke, which I drink about 1/4 of.  And back to the gas, it doesn't stop itself, it pours out onto me a bit, signifying that it's done.  Thanks.

One of the things we decided before we left is that in order to count a state as visited, we needed more than a stop for gas - we needed to have a meal at preferably a non-chain restaurant or to have the "state food."  So for Ohio, that meant Skyline Chili.  While yes, technically a chain, it's what Ohio is famous for.  For those who don't know, Skyline Chili is chili with a bit of cinnamon and served over spaghetti.  It looks kind of like vomit, but thankfully tasted a bit better than that.  After a Starbucks, I took over driving and we headed out on the open road.

Skyline Chili.  Their hot sauce was shockingly great.

Ohio and Indiana were incredibly open and flat states, and driving was a piece of cake.  We wanted to do something in Indiana, so Adam looked up the state food (Sugar Cream Pie) and then proceeded to call a billion places to see if they had it, to no avail.  When we stopped for gas, we saw signs for a farmers market and drove around to find it.  Although they didn't have Sugar Cream Pie, I decided our efforts were strong enough that Indiana needed to count.

We got to Susan J and Conrad's house in Glen View (when I was in college, there were two Susans in our group of friends.  For some reason, Susan J stuck more than Susan P, so even though she's technically Susan N now, I still call her Susan J.  Both Susans are still two of my favorite people in the world, and I typically refer to them as Susan J and Sus) around 6pm, got settled, and then headed to dinner.  Adam wanted dish deep pizza while in Chicago, so we headed to Giordano's to cross that off the list immediately.

Chicago style pizza.

We wanted to spend at least one day downtown, so the next morning we took an Uber into the city, had lunch at Topolobampo, and explored.  Adam has never really spent time in Chicago as an adult, so it was fun for him.  We went to Millennium Park, saw the Bean, walked around the city, and had drinks at the Hancock Tower for the amazing view.  While it was sunny, there was a haze over the city so we couldn't see as far as we'd like - we found out later it was from wildfires in MONTANA!  We met up with Susan J and Conrad for drinks at The Aviary, a Grant Achatz cocktail bar that Adam wanted to go to, and then dinner at Roister, also a Grant Achatz restaurant, but a more casual - and cheaper - one than, say, Alinea.

The Bean.

Drinks at Aviary.

We were lazy on Friday, and it was great!  I didn't really want to deal with Labor Day weekend traffic, so we stayed local, having Chicago hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches from Portillos, going to see the Home Alone house (they were doing construction on it, so we didn't get the best view), and staying in and grilling steaks for dinner (thanks, Conrad!).

Portillos for lunch!

The Home Alone house

After a great few days and nights in Chicago, we woke up on Saturday, had some cinnamon buns, and headed to Davenport!

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the USofA

After 3+ months traveling, we (mostly I) were ready to be back in the USA.  Even if our Spanish was improving, it gets stressful and frustrating not being able to easily communicate with everyone.  One of our main motivations for getting back to the USA earlier was so that we had some time to drive around, visit friends and family, and check out cities and states where we might want to relocate.  Getting back to the USA in mid-August let us head out before the weather got too rough and the roads to Julie started closing (although we did get SNOW on our first full day in Montana, September 15).  While we figured we'd spend about a week in NJ, we ended up spending 12 days there so that I could spend my birthday with my family.

And what a birthday it was!  I figured being in NJ for a few days would be my only opportunity to get to a Yankee game this year, and August 26 fell on a Saturday - and the Yankees were home!  For a Saturday game at 1:05pm!  And the Keenas were around too!  So, the eight of us spent my birthday at Yankee Stadium, where Jacoby Ellsbury had a great game and the Yankees beat the Mariners 6-3.  It was also Paige and Ben's first time at Yankee Stadium, and the weather was 75 and sunny - seriously couldn't have been better, it reminded me of Pam and Brian's wedding (as Leonore says, she should really just start asking my mom to pick a date when planning a party, because the Santillis always seem to have great luck with weather).  The whole day went perfectly - Pam told us when they left Connecticut and we guessed accordingly at when we should leave to arrive at similar times.  I was driving, stuck in traffic at the exit ramp on the Deegan, and told my mom to call Pam and see - and they were about 1/4 mile behind us.  I told them to do something I'm vehemently against - be that guy who passes everyone and cuts them off so we'd be together.  It worked, and we were able to park right next to each other, making exiting and driving to Arthur Avenue even easier (except that somehow Adam and I got separated from everyone else when going back to the car, I went to the wrong garage, and it took us a good 20 minutes to find everyone else by the cars in the correct garage.  I don't claim to have a good direction sense, and Adam, bless his heart, let it go since it was my birthday).  And yes, after the game, we went to Arthur Avenue for birthday dinner, with Aunt Patty, Grandpa, Uncle Nick, and Aunt Kim joining us for a good dinner - pretty perfect ending to a pretty great 36th birthday.

But back to our return.  We got back on Wednesday night, Adam went into NYC on Thursday to see friends who would be out of town the next week, and I did laundry.  My parents had an appointment on Friday morning, Adam was still in the city, and I had SEVEN GLORIOUS HOURS ALONE, the first time I'd been alone in probably 4 months.  Words can't express how amazing those seven hours were.  We headed to Brooklyn on Saturday to see some friends, and brought Pizza Plus and Four & Twenty Pie back for dinner (this was at the request of my parents).  Even after heating the pizza in the oven, it was so freaking good.  I miss Brooklyn pizza.  Sunday was my mom's birthday, and we spent the day in Connecticut at the lake, getting to see Aunt Agatha, Uncle Henry, Uncle John, Aunt Nancy, and the Keenas, with my favorite niece and nephew coming back with us to Jersey.


Monday was the solar eclipse, which, honestly, was nothing impressive in NJ.  My cousin Karyn came down for the day with her adorable 1 year old daughter, Poppy, and we all went to the pool for about an hour, until they closed for 3.5 hours because of the eclipse.  Thankfully, Paige was with us so I didn't have to play in the pool all day with Adam, as she's part fish.  Also, I made ricotta stuffed squash blossoms with dinner that night, and they came out great.  Karyn took some home for her husband and they deemed them restaurant quality.

Tuesday was another first for Paige and Ben - me, Adam, and my dad took them to Six Flags Great Adventure!  I hadn't been in probably 10 years, and the five of us had a blast - it was so much fun, and so exhausting.  The highlight of the day for me was my dad's face when he got off Toro, a wooden roller coaster.  This is a ride that I went on 10 years ago and had the worst headache afterwards, to the point where I still remember this.  Paige didn't want to go, so she and I sat around waiting for the rest of them.  Dad didn't want to drink, eat, speak, anything - it was hysterical.  We finally got home around 9:30pm, and just crashed.  The rest of the week was not nearly as exciting, though Adam and I did make a fantastic dinner of roasted beets, arugula/watermelon/tomato salad, and pork chops with a red wine sauce for my parents on Friday night.


Adam was very, VERY good at the Justice League ride where you shoot things as you ride.

Yes, she's ridiculous.

Paige pretending that she rode El Toro.

After a couple of days of getting everything in order, we finally headed out on Tuesday morning for our road trip.  About 10 miles into the trip, the aux button in my car stopped working, and we made a note to get it fixed while in Davenport, as well as the visor on the driver's side which was also broken (note: my mom, knowing we were coming home, tried and tried and tried to get my dad to fix this before we got home.  He did not understand what the hurry was).


We knew going into the trip that one of the countries we wanted to go to was Nicaragua.  We also knew that El Salvador and Honduras were not high on our lists due to safety concerns.  So, after 2 months in Mexico and 10 days in Guatemala, we decided that the best way to get to Nicaragua would be via plane.  One of the disadvantages to being 35 is that it takes longer than an hour to bounce back after a 20+ hour bus ride; one of the advantages is that we're not completely broke like 20 year olds.  On that note, we booked a flight for $100 from Guatemala City to Managua - the bus rides were apparently $65, and you still have to pay to sleep at a hostel that's in a compound in El Salvador.  I booked a flight that stopped in Costa Rica for an hour, but after getting to the airport at 5:30am for our 8:30am flight, Avianca had a non-stop one that the gate agent changed us to because the connection time on our original itinerary was so short - I knew the connection time was short when I booked it, but that was the best flight (the other connection times were like 8 hours, no thank you).  We got to Managua by 8:30am, but the airport is not near ANYTHING, so we had to take a taxi to the "bus" station, where we hopped a shuttle to Leon.  Upon arrival in Leon, we were SWARMED by tons of pedicab drivers and taxi drivers (side note: I HATE aggressive people.  I  understand why people can be aggressive when trying to get customers, but it makes me uncomfortable.  It's extremely prevalent in Central America, and it's not something I miss being back in the USA).  We got to our hostel, checked in, and decided to book Volcano Boarding for the 2pm trip!

Hostel in Leon.  Pretty nice, but HOT.

Volcano Boarding was so fun!  They picked up up at our hostel, took us to the shop, where we got free tank tops and boarded a private chicken bus with 35 other people for Cerro Negro, with Latin music and music videos blaring at top volume.  It's about a 45 minute drive to the volcano, which is considered a very young volcano, first appearing in 1850.  When you get to the volcano visitor's center, you sign in with your name and country, at which point it became apparent that about half of our group was from El Salvador and about half from Europe and Australia/New Zealand (remember this for the drive back).

Cerro Negro

Once you get to the base of the volcano, everyone is given a denim backpack that has a full yellow jumpsuit, goggles, and gloves, along with a board, which is basically a piece of plywood, to carry up the volcano.  We were told it's about a 45 minute hike up the volcano - while it was true it took 45 minutes for the climb, it was about 20-25 minutes of climbing and 20-25 minutes resting at 2 different stops along the hike.  Let's just say it was NOT intimidating or difficult after Acatenango, and I was nowhere near the back of the pack this time.  And as a plus, we weren't sore the next day at all.  As you'll see further down this post, our volcano trips took less and less effort as the trip went on.

Hiking up

Our group

The weather wasn't the greatest, but it turned out okay.  The biggest immediate, noticeable difference between Guatemala and Nicaragua is the weather.  Between Mexico and Guatemala, we had spent the last 1.5 months in high altitude and temperate climates - and then we got to Nicaragua.  You get off the plane and are immediately hit with just heat and humidity, and it took some time to get used to.  Anyways, for our hike up the volcano, we had some rain and a lot of clouds, but it wasn't uncomfortable - if anything, the rain made the hike more pleasant because you weren't roasting the entire time.  However, the views from the top weren't the best because of the clouds - but it was still very cool.

I wish I could find the other photo that goes with this.  One of our leaders took a photo of me and Adam, then said, "Okay, new pose."  Adam, with his quick thinking, just switches sides to my left.  It cracked the three of us up.

I've found as I've gotten older, heights bother me more, more in a sense that I get a pit in my stomach and intimidated.  It doesn't stop me from doing the activity, but I feel a bit sicker (as in, I went bungy jumping in January 2012 from 216 meters in South Africa.  I had an OH SHIT moment right before I jumped, but I went.  I don't know that I could do that at this point in my life).  However, this was not scary and I wasn't nervous at all.  I tied the free tank top around my mouth/nose (very necessary to have everything covered, there's volcanic rock flying up at you the whole trip!), sat on my board, and headed down the volcano through the clouds - and it was pretty fun.  I fell off a bunch of times, but you go pretty fast (the record is 96 km/hr.  Normal is probably around 30 km/hr) and it's over in a couple of minutes.  Adam went after me, and used the GoPro to record it.  We were probably in the first 1/4 of the group to go, and you wait at the bottom for everyone to finish, so there was a lot of waiting.

Me, all dressed up and ready to go.

On the trip back to Leon, the music videos came on again, and the entire front of the bus, the crew from El Salvador was going crazy and having so much fun - while the back of the bus, the crew from Europe/Australia, etc., was way more subdued.  I swear Despacito was played over and over and over, and they were having a dance party in the front of the bus - I texted my family the next day asking if it was a big song in the USA, because while it was popular in Central America, it's a Spanish song, so you never know how that travels (but we knew it was literally the most watched video of all time on YouTube).  I was expecting an answer from my dad or Paige (via Pam, as my favorite 9 year old does not have a cell phone or WhatsApp), and was SHOCKED when the first person to reply, and quickly, was my mom.  Now, anyone who knows my mom knows she is one of the greatest people in the world, someone I talk to constantly, and someone who knows me better than anyone except for maybe Adam - and vice versa (she can always tell when I've had a hand in picking out a present for her because I know her taste very, very well).  However, she knows and cares very little about pop culture, particularly music - a running joke with my dad and me is that if Hotel California comes on the radio, we ask her who sings it.  We think she FINALLY knows it's The Eagles.  Anyways, SHE is the one who replied that yes, it was big, and not only that, replied that Luis Fonsi is on all the late night shows.  I think this is when we understood the popularity of this song.  Upon arrival back to the boarding shop, they take you to a local bar across the street for a beer, which was a nice way to end the day.

We spent the next day walking around Leon.  The two biggest tourist cities in Nicaragua are Leon and Granada, and people typically prefer one or the other.  We read that Granada is like the beautiful, popular cheerleader, and Leon is like the not as beautiful best friend who has way more substance and takes time to uncover, but is worth it when you do.  Maybe we didn't have enough time, or maybe we're shallow, but we both preferred Granada to Leon.  Leon just  Desolate, empty, kinda sketchy.




So after volcano boarding in Leon, we headed south to San Juan del Sur, a beach town on the Pacific Ocean in very southern Nicaragua.  We took a shuttle that stopped in Managua, Granada, and San Jorge before San Juan del Sur - and the shuttle itself was an adventure.  On our first leg to Managua, the driver didn't do the best job tying the luggage to the roof, and about 15 minutes into the trip, luggage went flying - and the driver didn't even notice until passengers were like, WHOA, we need to stop.  When we did stop, it wasn't our luggage that had gone flying, but the guests who it did belong to were able to stop and get everything (well, hopefully everything!).  So the driver loads everything back up, ties it up, but this point takes the tarp off.  About 10 minutes later, it starts pouring (this is NOT a surprise - it was very overcast!), so he gets out of the shuttle again, rearranges some stuff, and gets all the luggage into the van (with help from Adam and another guy).  Why he didn't do this after luggage went flying, I'm still not sure, but it was okay.  However, the worst part of the trip was (also in the Leon-Managua leg) when we saw a car that had crashed and a dead body with the face covered on the side of the road.  I was a bit shook after that.

We picked up some people, dropped some people off, and made it to San Juan in the late afternoon - probably about a 6 hr trip total, although it probably should be like 2-3 hrs.  We checked into our Airbnb, headed to the water area, and had some drinks and dinner at a restaurant with a pretty great view.

Photos don't do it justice.  The sunset the second night we were there was breathtaking. 
Several people we talked to agreed it was the most incredible one they'd ever seen.

Sunset fading away.

San Juan del Sur is a pretty well known beach town, particularly known for its surfing, and we were looking forward to a few days of relaxing.  However, since it's famous for surfing, I did want to take a surf lesson - and it did not disappoint.  There are tons of surf shops, but we decided to just book one through our Airbnb.  The communication with our host was difficult at times - but not for the reasons you would think (language barrier). No, the issue was that the town lost power for a few hours, so emailing back and forth wasn't really possible with no wi-fi.  We finally confirmed about 10 minutes before we were to get picked up, so we scrambled to get our stuff together and headed out.

Our lessons were me, Adam, and this guy Eric from DC, along with two instructors, Marlon and Jamir, and it was fantastic.  The beach, Playa Remanso, was perfect.  Not very big, and we arrived when it was not high tide, so we were able to learn without being intimidated.  Now, I was the one who wanted to do surf lessons - Adam went along because there's very little that I'm pretty adamant about doing.  He had been surfing twice before, once in Hawaii and once on Long Island, but said this was such a better experience.  Jamir and Marlon would hold the board, tell you when to paddle, tell you how to focus on what you needed to do, etc., and we were both successful in standing and riding a few waves.  After the 1.5-2 hour lesson, we were able to chill out on the beach and relax.  Adam and Eric took the boards back out - I chose not to - but it was high tide, and the time between waves was very small, making it more difficult and less successful.  The ride to/from the beach was pretty bumpy and muddy, and about 20-30 minutes, but man, this beach was perfect for learning.  We had it pretty much to ourselves for 30-45 minutes before other groups showed up.

Surf Beach

Surf lessons.  No pictures of the lessons - we didn't bring our GoPro.

When we got back, we met up at Eric's hotel, which was right on the water and had an awesome balcony and view.  We had some drinks, went for dinner, and had a really nice night.  We had booked three nights in San Juan, so we had the next day to relax and wander around the town.  While food was not cheap in the least (it's touristy), it was quite good!  We had met a couple from the UK on our shuttle to San Juan - they were going the opposite way we did (we went Leon, San Juan, Ometepe, Granada - they literally did the exact opposite), and we overlapped with them for a day in San Juan del Sur - so we spent the afternoon hanging out and comparing notes about where we'd been - and convincing them to climb Acatenango when they got to Guatemala - they hadn't heard about it, they were traveling for a total of 6 weeks but had just started.  Charlie was a bit nervous about it as she is not someone who enjoys working out and considers herself not in shape, but I told her if I could do it, she could.  And that it sucked, but it was pretty cool to say I hiked it.  They ended up doing it, and their views were better than ours - their weather looked perfect based on Facebook pictures.  We also advised them to pay a bit more than the $20 we had paid and maybe have better guides, which they did - Chris said their guides were awesome and that the ratio was like 3 or 4 to 1 (similar to us, they were not 20 and broke, so while they were traveling on a budget, they could spend a bit more when they wanted to).

Blurry and cloudy, but happy.  I'm also probably extra happy here because I had bought our plane tickets home that morning.

We did get to play bar trivia one night when we were there - and we won!  Seeing as though we don't usually do that well in Brooklyn, this was great.  We got 19 of 25 questions correct (next closest was 14 correct?), although in all fairness, there were some VERY easy questions.  The prize was a bottle of ginger infused rum, but you couldn't bring it out of the bar, so you basically share it with everyone.  Sucks, because I totally would've brought this back to the USA - it was incredible.

Our prize for winning bar trivia!

One note about the food in San Juan del Sur.  Since it's a pretty touristy place, food was not cheap but was good.  We had some good Korean food, good bar food, and good seafood, but the most memorable food were the breakfast sandwiches at Dale Pues - specifically their use of cream cheese.  I got a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich that had a light smear of dill cream cheese, and it was great; but Adam got a BLT two mornings in a row that had a light smear of homemade garlic cream cheese on it (instead of mayo - my mayo-hating self LOVED this).  It was so delicious that we asked them how they made the cream cheese (fresh garlic, not garlic powder) and we replicated this recipe in Iowa a month or two later.  HIGHLY recommend doing this.  Yuuuuuuummmmmm.

After relaxing days and good food, we headed to Ometepe Island.  Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua that consists of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas.  The roads on Ometepe aren't the greatest, and it took about an hour to get to Hacienda Merida on some very off-road roads.  We had a couple of relaxing days at Hacienda Merida, lounging in hammocks.  The hacienda was great, the rooms were spacious and rustic, and the food was really good - buffet meals at a set time and ala carte the rest of the time.  There was a large group of vet students from Oregon State at the hacienda, so it was pretty quiet while we were there, with the group in and out tending to animals and performing surgeries and procedures.  There was a guy there who was a professor at Auburn whose wife was a vet working in conjunction with Oregon State, so we talked to him for a bit - turns out he graduated from Wake Forest a year before Pam, in the same major - they both said the name was familiar but they wouldn't recognize the other person.  Still, small world.

Approaching Ometepe.  Wish we had gotten a shot with both volcanoes in it.

View from the Hacienda.

Hacienda Pier

Yeah, the sunsets in Nicaragua were okay.

We did go kayaking while we were on Ometepe.  It was a two person kayak, and we got to explore some beautiful areas around the island - lots of birds and turtles, and supposedly caiman (little alligators/crocodiles), which thankfully we did not see.  Let's leave it at that and not go into the fighting that happens everytime we kayak or canoe together.

View from the kayak.

Our last stop in Nicaragua was Granada, a beautiful colonial town.  Our hostel was pretty new, and the only place we stayed in Nicaragua that had hot water (and air-conditioning!) and a swimming pool.  Most of our time in Granada was spent by the pool, and we met some pretty cool people there as well.  The one thing we really wanted to do in Granada was go to Volcano Masaya, an active volcano that you drive up.  As I told my mom, there was NO effort involved in this - you literally are driven to the top of the volcano, where you get out and look into the crater where you just see bright, boiling lava.  It was very, very cool.  The rest of our group on that ride (there were 5 other guys) were annoying in that they got out of the truck at one of the stop points and then didn't get back in time for us to make that group - we had to wait another 20 minutes because other cars passed us and only a certain amount are allowed up at a time.  In the end, we still got to see the volcano and it was pretty awesome.  Out of the three volcanic "climbs" we did (Acatenango, Cerro Negro, and Masaya), this was Adam's favorite.  I'm still undecided on mine - Acatenango was definitely the most out of my comfort zone, Masaya was the easiest, and Cerro Negro was probably the most fun.

Hostel in Granada.  It was beautiful!



Looking into Volcano Masaya.  Yes, that's lava.

After a bit over three months in Central America, it was time to head back home.  We got to the airport right on schedule, had no issues connecting in Atlanta, and got to Newark a bit early, where we were picked up by my mom and my VERY surprised dad, who thought he was going to pick up the nephew of a good friend.  Our timing perfectly coincided with their arrival, and my mom told my dad, "Look, there's an open spot over there, pull over," to which he replied, "In a minute, I'm letting that girl cross the street (I'm waving TO him, he's waving me across the street)."  Mom says, "Which girl?" and he says, "That one (points).  She kinds looks like Melissa.  Wait.  What?  Huh?"  He was so confused (I could see through the windshield) and my mom really wishes she had recorded it because he was so so confused and surprised.  Thankfully the stone-cold, unemotional demeanor of my mom allowed her to keep this a secret for a week and his reaction is something that will make me smile whenever I think back on it.  Mom and I got called asses a few times for doing this, but he was so happy to see us.  Like my mom pointed out to him, this way he didn't need to worry all day about us traveling because he had no clue.

Jamaica, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua were great - but it was time to explore the USA.