Central America

Lisa writing on the overnight bus in India
Lisa writing on the overnight bus in India

Winter 2013–Inspiration: A Place You Love

WeSaidGoTravel.com invites you to enter its 2013 Travel Writing Contest with a $200 first-place prize and no fee for entry. The theme for the Winter 2013 contest is “Inspiration: A Place You Love.” We hope your article will encourage others to consider going to the place you love and travel more! Please see below for the full rules of our competition. Thank you for your participation in creating a growing global community of engaged travelers and concerned citizens. Writers of all ages and from all countries are encouraged to enter and share stories from any part of our planet.

THEME:  Inspiration: A place you love

THREE CASH PRIZES: 1st prize – $200usd, 2nd prize – $100usd, 3rd prize: Vagabond’s Choice – $100usd
First and Second Prize will be selected by the We Said Go Travel Team. The Vagabonds’s Choice Award will be selected through voting on the We Said Go Travel Facebook Fan page. All award monies will be paid through Check or PayPal in United States Dollars. The contest begins January 2, 2013 and ends February 14, 2013. All winning entries will be promoted on We Said Go Travel social media channels and the author names recognized as winners of the first We Said Go Travel Writing contest. Enter by midnight PST on February 14, 2013.

RULES and INSTRUCTIONS: Click here

JUDGING: Richard Bangs and the We Said Go Travel Team
Richard Bangs, the father of modern adventure travel, is a pioneer in travel that makes a difference, travel with a purpose. He has spent 30 years as an explorer and communicator, and along the way led first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, he is currently producing and hosting the new PBS series, Adventures with Purpose.

We are looking for an article that “speaks to readers, transforms them and transports them either to a place they’d like to live or like to travel. Use “creative evocative writing that brings a destination to life” by combining “the tools of a novelist, the eyes of a journalist, and the general knowledge that comes from a never-ending education and a natural curiosity about the world around you—and its history.” When you are “capturing the essence of a place and engaging the senses,” you share your passion for the place you are writing about and everyone will want to read your writing. (Quotes from Travel Writing 2.0 by Tim Leffel)

Contests, Courses, Resources Page: Coming SOON! Know a great contest, course or travel writing resource we should have on our page? Add it to the comments or email us at Inspiration@wesaidgotravel.com

3 61

Shortly after arriving in Belize City I discovered that the town held few charms.  Very few, to be honest.  Despite its quaint clapboard houses and tropically colonial British architecture, this city on the shores of the Caribbean was replete with unemployed young men who had little to do in life except prey on the unwary tourists who wandered its precincts.

Once again I consulted a map, obtained at the local travel office conveniently located near the swing bridge over the Belize River.  It showed the major offshore islands, of course, as well as a few uninhabited cays not so far from the coast.  Uninhabited? I asked my traveling friend.  What’s that all about?

We made discrete inquiries along the riverfront, which was lined with docks and fishing terminals, not to mention a plethora of run-down wooden sailing craft in various states of disrepair.  The smell at low tide was powerful, like that of  a strong cod liver oil potion given by Mom during the 1950s to ward off both illness and good humor.

We showed our map to a number of riverside gentlemen, most of whom shook their  heads at our notion of securing a one-way passage to a random island.  We now had one locale fixed in our minds – Goff’s Cay.  This island looked promising for a number of reasons.  It wasn’t very far away, lying only about 10 miles east of the river’s mouth, but distant enough to be outside the polluting influences of the city.  The map showed another island nearby with a lighthouse, so if we found a ride to Goff’s, we would not be too distant from civilization in the event of an unforeseen mishap.

Now, who has never thought about spending time on a deserted island?  The more we considered the concept, the more plausible and attractive the idea became.  We finally located a friendly, if somewhat peculiar character who agreed to take us to Goff’s Cay.  His price was steep,  perhaps $20 for the one way passage.  We were not prepared to spend so much money for the return trip so we told him, “Don’t bother to pick us up; we’ll hitchhike a ride back to town with a passing fishing boat or yacht.”  He thought this plan crazy, but twenty bucks was twenty bucks. We agreed to meet the next day to begin our journey.

We spent a frantic afternoon purchasing supplies.  What would we need and how long would we stay on the island?  Educated guesswork formed our answers.  We bought canned sardines, lots of rice and beans, snacks, rum, and other supplies to keep our spirits afloat during this self-imposed isolation.

Our boat driver arrived at his dock on time the next morning and we departed without incident, after giving him his fee up front.  He had a mad glint in his eyes that matched his skinny build and toothy smile.  Soon we cleared the river and left the city behind.

1) Departure downriver from Belize City

The weather was clear,  beautiful, and sunny, but the seas ran high.  Our redoubtable pilot, understanding that he was being paid by mileage and not by the hour, allowed no leisurely comforts  as we shot over eight-foot ocean swells, his entire 25 ft. plywood boat jumping clear of the water every time he powered the vessel over a wave. I began to wonder if the craft would hold together under the strain.  The pilot held his position at the outboard throttle just forward of the boat’s stern with that mad smile fixed to his face. He didn’t talk much, other than to point out our destination, which grew from a green-hued smudge on the horizon to an actual island that finally resolved into a marvelous view of coconut trees and beautiful sandy beach.

After what seemed like hours of pounding through the seas, we coasted to a stop in the shallow water on the lee shore.  Our pilot helped us unload our gear, asked again if we didn’t want to arrange a pick-up, and soon departed, leaving us to the quiet  of our private island.

Goff’s Cay encompassed about an acre of land, mostly beach with a raised hummock where a few mature coconut trees provided shade. Previous visitors, probably fishermen, had built a rude thatched structure to shelter themselves from the wind, but it lacked a roof and looked pretty rough.  So we pitched our tent under the palms and sorted our belongings.

We spent three tremendously fine days on the cay.  With plenty of books to read, water to drink, and food to eat, all our needs were met.  We had time for reflection, to lie on the beach and make sand angels,  and to gaze at the brilliant star-studded night skies free from the maddening effects of city lights, with only the sound of the wind, waves, and seabirds piercing the harmony of nature’s silence.  Occasionally a small skiff would pass close to the island, its occupants observing us with questioning looks, but we would smile and wave them away.  Our time on Goff’s Cay was special, the sort of experience a person stumbles into by accident but is never able again to repeat.

goffscaybelize059

2) Our campsite on the island

On the fourth day after our arrival we had a visitor. The lighthouse keeper had seen our evening cooking fires and wondered if a yacht might have been shipwrecked near Goff’s, which is surrounded by an imposing coral reef.  He decided to hop into his runabout and come to make sure all was well. By now our food supply had dwindled, along with our cigarettes and rum.  We appreciated his offer to take us, for free, back to his lighthouse for the rest of the day and then transfer us to Belize City.  We bade goodbye to our island paradise and once again crossed the turquoise sea.

The lighthouse was a fine example of British-inspired architecture, and the keeper proudly showed us its mechanisms and lenses, along with the tiny cottage he called home.  He was a gentle soul, living by himself as a kind of hermit.  Not unlike ourselves, really, lost and far from home.  At the end of the day he returned us to the Belize River, to a dock near the one from which we had departed.  After one more night in the city we headed south, determined to find another Caribbean hideaway that would match our island discovery.  We were never quite successful, but to travel involves embarking on a quest, not reaching a destination.

I hear Goff’s Cay welcomes squadrons of cruise ships these days and has developed into a day-trip spot for hordes of fast-tripping tourists.  The place has moved on, and so have I.  Now older, I dream of the Marquesas, the Tuamotu chain, and Vanuatu.  My dreams have expanded their reach while the world continues to shrink.

 

In 1972 an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 struck Nicaragua and destroyed its capital city, Managua.  The events following this devastating natural disaster contributed greatly to the Sandinista Revolution a few years later.  I visited Nicaragua at the beginning of the civil war.  My first inkling of trouble occurred at the border, where Customs officials treated travelers with rudeness and physical abuse.  My companion and I managed to enter the country without incident after paying a hefty “visa fee” but we were shocked at the behavior displayed by the border guards.  Normally in Central America visitors were greeted at international frontiers with a measure of tolerance, occasional friendliness, and at the worst, indifference.  But here, violence was already in the air.  Times were changing in Nicaragua.  We constantly met Sandinista supporters who informed us bluntly that they were about to overthrow the government.  We soon discovered their motives.  Downtown Managua, smashed by the earthquake six years previously, had never been rebuilt. The rubble never cleared, fresh housing never constructed for the victims, nothing, nada.  We walked around the ruins of the central district like survivors of a post-apocalyptic future and marveled at the devastation.  Trees grew from swimming pools in residential districts, office buildings lay in crumpled heaps, and what few areas had been bulldozed free of wreckage were vast empty fields of weeds and grass.  It was as if the city had been bombed like Köln or Coventry during World War II.  Squalid shantytowns encompassed the central district,  where refugees lived in conditions of grinding poverty.  We stayed in a bad hotel outside the city center, one of the worst I ever encountered in Central America.The reason the city had never been restored was explained to us by many Nicaraguans and was not difficult to appreciate nor to understand.  After the earthquake the Somoza government immediately appealed for and received substantial international aid to help its citizens rebuild; the politicians and their henchmen quickly stole almost all of the donated money.

As a reasonable person can imagine, the citizens of Nicaragua became increasingly angry.  During our stay in Managua we met a pharmacist who lived above the city in a nice neighborhood, not far from the Intercontinental Hotel made famous by the journalists who covered the civil war. While we ate dinner and looked down at the city, still mostly functioning without electric lights, the pharmacist and her husband – upper middle class folks who one would not normally associate with a radical revolutionary movement, explained that they and their peers planned to take down the government by force.  They had weapons and were getting ready to use them.  And so they probably did.

We met many other citizens who later became Sandinista fighters.  We would talk on street corners, in bars, and in public parks. I threw my support to them, encouraging these simple individuals to take up arms and defeat the rabid dictatorship that had ruined their country.

I have a personal connection to the theft of the aid money.  In my hometown of Lennoxville, a local elementary school that many of my friends attended, Ecole St. François, took up donations to send to Nicaragua to help the earthquake victims. The kids raised a few thousand dollars, a lot of money in rural Quebec for grade-schoolers in the 1970s.  Some months after forwarding the money directly to the Nicaraguan government, the school asked how the cash had been used to aid the earthquake victims.  The hubris of the response was astounding.  Not even bothering to make up a plausible alibi, the Nicaraguan embassy in Ottawa told the children that the money, alas, had never reached Managua but had been “lost.”

A German woman I met a few months after the revolution, with whom I became a close friend,  was with the revolutionaries who stormed the presidential palace.  A picture of her drinking champagne in Somoza’s bathtub was widely disseminated at the time in the international media.

I stayed with her a few years later at her apartment in Berlin. Unfortunately she became increasingly radical herself, to the point where she was reluctant to explore her own city with me, for fear of being perceived as supporting the bourgeois society that she believed Germany had become.  I haven’t seen her since 1980.

A lot of time has passed since 1978.  The Sandinistas, like so many idealistic movements who have won power in their homelands, were corrupted by their own success and fame.  Ronald Reagan decided they were terrorists and funded a long dirty war against them, adding to the endless misery constantly endured by ordinary Nicaraguans.  Eventually Managua was partially rebuilt, and I understand that now luxury shopping malls and apartment buildings grace the city outskirts.  Even the central district has finally undergone restoration.

But I still wonder if the original refugees have benefited from these changes, or whether they have inherited the same abysmal economic conditions as their parents and grandparents suffered under the Somoza regime.

In 1978 I took many photos of the ruins of Managua.  Most have been lost, but a lucky three images have survived the years:

Managuaruins032

1) The Bank of America building in Managua. Locals told me that all the floors pancaked during the earthquake.  Luckily the quake happened at night when few workers would have been inside.  The other structures in the photo were uninhabited and dangerous wrecks

Managuaruins031

2) Managua’s cathedral.  Six years after the temblor authorities had yet to authorize workers to sweep the floor clean of debris


3) Inside the ruins of an upper-class establishment, complete with swimming pool

 

4)On the bright side, the Somoza family still created self-portraits during the waning days of their reign (I shot this photo somewhere en route to the Caribbean coast).

5) Another violent symbol: men clip the wings of a parrot, just as the government cut off the rights of their people (shot from the balcony of a simple hotel room in Bluefields)


I trust lucky cat to help me make good decisions

Planning. Oh, planning. The bane of many a traveller out there, planning is the thorn in the side of the beauty of exploring new places for so many. Whether or not you’re a person who’s planning is simply booking a flight or bus to their next destination, or a person who likes to have their accommodation lined up well in advance as well as flights  booked several months ahead, it’s a necessary evil that needs to be dealt with.

When it comes to planning, I definitely fall into the latter category. I’m a planning nut who’ll try and figure things out as far in advance as possible, jumping on flights and scoping out things like festivals and potentially awesome CouchSurfing hosts or hotel deals faster than the airlines can charge me those pesky booking fees.

OK, so maybe I’m not quite that fast.

Seoul Subway
Should you just follow the path you've already set for yourself?

I’m heading around the world next year, departing on March 27th, 2013 to be precise. Planning is like crack to me, and I approached the whole idea of scheduling my trip with absolute glee. I decided exactly where I wanted to go, when I’d be there, how long for, and I’d be travelling with my partner. All sorted.

Or so I thought.

My partner and I had initially planned to travel together but this is no longer possible. He’ll just be graduating university or doing an internship and be thrown into South Korea’s viciously competitive job market. Taking time off to travel simply isn’t an option here. So, that’s the first thing that went kaput. I’m travelling solo.

I trust lucky cat to help me make good decisions

The act of planning for a round the world trip, of course, involves a heck of a lot of research. I wanted to go to Africa first and do a safari in Zambia. From there, I’d head through Malawi, down to Mozambique, and fly out of South Africa.

However, when I dug a little deeper, I found that the end of March is a bit of a dodgy time for safaris in Zambia – you’re not really guaranteed to see any animals. Malawi is easy enough to travel in, but crossing the border into Mozambique seems hellish – and not to mention, Mozambique is absurdly expensive. Then, South Africa. The only place in South Africa I have any desire to visit is Cape Town, but all the cheap flight deals I could find – and the best connection from Mozambique overland – operate out of Johannesburg.

Saklikent Gorge in Fethiye
Hopefully I'll climb up and reach the light.

I’ve scratched all that now. I’ll still go to Africa, but I have absolutely no idea where. West Africa? Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso? Perhaps. Maybe Ethiopia. Somewhere undiscovered and completely different, like Eritrea? Or maybe I will do that safari in Zambia – but that’s an experience I want to share with my partner.

As I mentioned before, I do have my first flight booked. However, it’s for the USA, not Africa. I’ll be starting in Boston. I asked for advice on where to go in the eastern USA, and received lots of tips and advice on where to go. People commented, “why aren’t you going to California?” Not enough time, I replied.

Then I found an amazing deal to San Francisco. I booked it. So yes, I’m going to California.

Grits are disgusting.
Also, I'll be trying grits despite my initial disgusted first reaction.

From there, I’m off to Colombia – a country I’d planned on visiting almost last on my trip – and after that, Canada. Canada wasn’t even on my list to begin with, and I disappointed a few of my Canuck friends by telling them I wouldn’t be going. Then, it was announced that TBEX 2013 will be taking place in Toronto and, on a whim, I booked a flight from Bogota to Toronto.

Burger B Seoul
This pulled pork deliciousness happened the first time I met bloggers in Seoul. I'm hoping more deliciousness will continue at TBEX.

All this confusion and organised chaos only covers the first two or three months of my trip. I thought I had things down, knew what I was doing, but then I understood something. I understood why people travelling always tell you not to plan too far ahead. Why they tell you that it’s best ifyour plans have some kind of fluiditiy to them.

Things pop up that you don’t expect and you’ll find amazing flight deals or information on things like fantastic festivals, over-the-top visa requirements, inclement weather or seductive foodporn that will change your plans entirely.

Grand Park Seoul
Leave your feet dangling off the edge

So, what am I doing after Toronto? I’m thinking of visiting Montreal. In terms of a country I’ll be going to? I have absolutely no idea. Nothing is planned. Nothing is set in stone. Everything is wide open.

Maybe I’ll decide on something a couple of months down the line. Maybe I’ll decide when I’m in Canada. Who knows?

I’ve yet to hit the road, but I’m already understanding that the best plan to have is to keep your options and your mind open – and to have your finger on the mouse when you find that irresistible deal to somewhere you hadn’t considered before.

 

About the author: Tom Stockwell always had his nose stuck in an atlas as a child, and pretended that the stairs in his home were a magic carpet whisking him away to some faraway country that he’d seen on the map. Now, he’s travelling the world and has taught in Korea, explored snow covered beaches in Poland, partied at Sydney Mardi Gras and almost thrown up from trying durian in Kuala Lumpur. You can keep up with Tom’s adventures through his blog, Waegook Tom, via Facebook, and by following @waegook_tom on Twitter, too.

You know that moment immediately after you stub your toe, but before eminent pain ensues when you think to yourself:

“crap, this is going to really hurt in just a few seconds”

With less than two months to go before Vicky and I set out on what is arguably our most important decision to date, that’s a little bit how I feel now.

It’s a loose connection I’ll admit, whereby the act of stubbing your toe is deciding to go on this two year journey, and the pain is a series of “fall flat on your face” moments that are destined to happen from traveling to unfamiliar places.

What is consistent in this metaphor, however, is the overwhelming anxiety that comes from reality setting in.

I feel completely an utterly unprepared.

I can’t help but think back on myself a year ago. It amazes me that for the first 6 months after deciding to travel the world for two years I essentially sat around doing the same thing I always did. I won’t go into great detail but a couch and a TV were the major players.

Didn’t I wonder where I was going to get vaccinated? Where we were going to go? What I was going to pack?

dave lounging on the couch
I guess not

Ignorance was bliss.

And besides – Vicky will figure it out. She’s good at that stuff. What I am good at?

Making The Website

I’ll make the website. I did it once in college and it was no sweat. We’ll be at the top of the search results in no time, promise, just give me two weeks.

website after two weeks
Our website after two weeks of "work"

OK OK a month…tops!

website after one  month
website after one month

CHECK (I mean half the battle is coming up with a catchy title right)?

website search results
Yup...top of the search results

Um…let’s move on.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations – I’ll need a few of those huh? Well, there’s probably only like two travel clinics in DC anyways:

 

Touché travel clinics – touché.

Oh well, I’m sure they all do a fantastic job, and if I miss one vaccination it can’t be that bad right?

Rabies symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety, stress, and tension
  • Drooling
  • Convulsions
  • Exaggerated sensation at the bite site
  • Excitability
  • Loss of feeling in an area of the body
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Low-grade fever (102 degrees F or lower)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain at the site of the bite
  • Restlessness
  • Swallowing difficulty

Did they say drooling? Am I sure I don’t already HAVE rabies? Maybe we should just table this for a bit and move on to something more fun.

The Route

Let’s plan the route.

Ya, that’ll be fun. Let’s talk about all the cool places where going to go and sites we’re gonna see. Bungee jumping, Everest Base Camp, white water rafting – Great idea!

Asia should be easy – what are the countries again?

asia countries
Asia countries

I guess a few more popped up after the Soviet Union split (or was it the Berlin Wall coming down?). Realistically though, I mean, Myanmar? If I’ve never even heard of it. It’s probably not that cool…

But maybe not.

Maybe Myanmar is the coolest place in Asia?

search results
I didn't realize this was such a heated topic

Thanks Google – a simple Yes or No would have sufficed. I have to be more scientific about this:

Dave Beer Pong
OK babe, if I sink this cup we're going to Myanmar...and it's balls back

Alright, the route’s planned…and I’m a little tipsy.

Route
Don't ask how I came up with it - game got a little crazy when we went into triple overtime

It’ll make sense when we get there…promise.

Packing

Last part – packing. Should be pretty simple, let’s start with the must haves:

TV
Maybe if I turn it 90 degrees it'll fit ?

No, I’m not thinking about this right. I have to think smaller.

TV
OK, I just shrunk the picture - the TV still doesn't fit

Alright, alright, I’ll just stick to the bare necessities:

Toilet Paper
Can I watch Sports Center on this?

Well I guess that just about does it then.

Conclusion

You might have guessed that this article was somewhat in jest. In reality, a decent amount of work has gone into our planning. At the end of the day though, there really is only so much one can do. No matter how much planning (or how little), you put in, I think there is an element of uncertainty with travel that does make it feel like I just took a shot in a beer pong game. So yes, I do still feel completely unprepared, and yes, I do think it’s going to “hurt” in a few months time. Inevitably though, plans rarely turn out the way they were intended, but at least they get you moving!

About the authors:

Having spent 2 years in the working world, Dave and Vicky are ready to exchange their briefcases for backpacks, dress shoes for sandals, and beds for sleeping bags. Starting in September they will be embarking on a 2 year journey across Asia and Europe. You can follow along at A Couple Travelers where you’ll find travel reflections, blogging resources and restaurant reviews.

When I first visited Belize City in the 1970s, the former capital of Belize possessed a certain seedy charm.

goffscaybelize060

The city in 1978

I hadn’t been there in years when I revisited the country in April of this year. The Belize River, which divides the city in two, didn’t look much different.

The river’s mouth from the ferry dock. The building on the other side was, unsurprisingly, for sale

I strolled the town with my son and his friend.  Belize City has a reputation as an unsafe place. While we saw a good number of homeless men and poor people, at no time did we feel threatened in any way.

The oldest Anglican church, a Brit import

The interior, suitably lavish, one supposes, to impress the locals

The north side of town,which in the 1970s had a bad vibe to it, was now positively chic, at least by the water.

The shoreline as seen from the famous swing bridge

We stayed a night in a hotel that had seen a number of remodelings of both looks and purpose.

The Chateau Caribbean Hotel

We had fine waterfront views.

The hotel’s front porch

And the next day we departed for Cay Caulker in a small ferry that was a bit warm while sitting at the dock (it had no passenger deck space) but was breezy enough once underway.

Inside the ferry

 

Thank you to Micki for her post about her family journey to the beaches of Costa Rica. We hope she will share more of her adventures with us on our site.

Costa Rica is everything that the tourist brochures claim: lush, steeped in adventure, and chock full of amazing wildlife.

But we’re beach bums. All four of us are never happier than when we’re barefoot on the sand. So, of course, our first order of business in Costa Rica was to head straight to the beach.

As a family, we’ve been fortunate enough to visit beautiful beaches all over the world, including Varadero in Cuba, Boracay in the Philippines, Kailua in Hawaii, and Mamitas in Mexico.

At first glance, I thought we’d be disappointed by the muddy looking grey sands of Playa Tamarindo. I was so wrong. It’s only when I got close that I realized the water was crystal clear, and the swath of beach was wide (and seemingly, endless).

Tamarindo, a small town on Costa Rica’s Pacific side, is well known by surfers the world over. The beach break on Playa Tamarindo was made famous by the classic surfing movie Endless Summer II, and it’s often crowded with surfers trying to catch the next big break.

Because half of our little family was under six, we ventured a little bit to the south to Playa Langosta, where the waves are smaller, and the beach is quieter.

What followed was pure beach bliss.

Cole, at age five, caught the gentle waves on his boogie board, and giggled madly as they brought him into the sloping shore.

I lounged in a hammock, watching the kids and Charles build sandcastles.

As we grew hot in the midday sun, we ventured out into the clear blue ocean. We ducked under waves, and floated, carefree, as the waves pushed and pulled us.

As sunset came, we stood on the shore watching the colors creep across the sky over the Pacific.

Some days are like that. Unintentionally, somehow, perfect.

How to get there:  The closest international airport is in Liberia. From there, it’s 45 minutes by taxi or bus to Tamarindo.

What to do:  The main attraction in Tamarindo is the beach, but there are a host of other activities to keep you busy, including zip-lining, ATV rides, spa treatments, catamaran tours, watching nesting leatherback turtles, and eating at the dozens of excellent restaurants.

When to go:  October to March is best if you want to watch nesting leatherback turtles. If you’re surfing, the waves are biggest in September and October.

Have you ever had that perfect day at the beach? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Micki Kosman writes about travel, tech and family at www.thebarefootnomad.com.