Category Archives: Intrepid Breakfasts

Eating like a local, Guayaquil, Ecuador

The guilt we feel for not eating purely local food is, of course, entirely of our own making. I’m sure no-one – local, tourist, or blog reader – really gives much of a monkey’s. Be that as it may, we were resolved to get back to trying more unusual food, shop in small tiendas and follow unsuspecting Ecuadorians into neighbourhood restaurants in the hope of finding new and exciting gastronomic experiences.

Our first foray came in the form of bus food; that is, snacks often sold by men and women who wander down the aisle between stops, baskets filled with pre-chopped fruit, deep-fried tamales, and mysterious packages wrapped in black plastic bags, usually served with scorching hot chilli sauce, or syrup (sometimes both). Long bus journeys are a bit of a necessity in South America, as the distances between major towns and cities are vast. As such, we were soon on the look-out for something to eat on our 14hr journey south from Quito, and it wasn’t long until we were rewarded. As five heavily-laden women squeezed onto the bus, the sweet aroma of freshly steamed corn on the cobs filled the air. These were served, piping hot, with a generous slab of fresh cheese (something like a cross between mozzarella and halloumi, and delicious). Later, we’d maintain our salt and fat intake by tucking into cheese tamales, bought as we passed through some of Ecuador’s less salubrious neighbourhoods which were heavy in both petrol stations and hopefully named ‘love hotels’. From a feeding perspective at least, things were going well.

Having arrived in Guayquil late at night, we were ready for a proper meal by morning. The town is a fairly standard urban centre, our opinion not helped by its immediate comparision to the hot and beautiful Galapagos Islands, and the fact it was pissing with rain. In a rush to escape the weather, we ducked into the nearest strip of food stalls we could find and took a seat. Tenedor del Oro is a chain, serving Ecuadorian classics from breakfast through to dinner. Having fared so well before, I opted for fried plantains with fresh cheese, while the Egg Poacher chose a ‘Guayaco’, much the same as mine, but the plantain and cheese are mashed together, formed into a ball and then deep fried. There was also a side of fried egg, while we both had what can euphemistically be called DIY coffee: a tiny cup of instant granules, a mug of hot water, and some sugar.

It can’t be said this was our finest meal – the cheese had a somewhat sour aftertaste, while the eggs had been fried a long, long time ago, the yolks sagging like collapsed souffles. We certainly weren’t hungry anymore (and unlikely to need to eat again for many days to come), but a pressing desire for vitamins drove us straight into the arms of the nearest smoothie stall – proving that, as with most things and despite good intentions, you can’t win them all.

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

If we’d been asked what we thought the Galapagos Islands were like before we arrived, we might have mentioned Attenborough picking his way across exta-terrestrial terrain to shoot the breeze with Lonesome George, Darwin desperately trying to stop his crew from eating all the delicious turtules, or expensive cruises full of retirees in khaki cargo pants and fanny packs. For us it seemed unlikely we’d make it that far, what with our dwindling savings and time.

We knew the only way we could do it would be by ourselves, and had been lucky to find flights from Quito for $300 less than we’d seen elsewhere. Some trawling through travel blogs had given us a rough itinerary, and for once, we booked everything we could in advance so we had an idea of what we were going to do. But nothing could have prepared us for what it was actually like.

We set down in Baltra and after a short boat ride were soon driving through hot, flat desert towards Santa Cruz, the biggest island on the archipelago. By the time we arrived, a thick sea haar had rolled in but, undeterred, we set out for the famous Darwin Station. It wasn’t long until we were in amongst the wildlife: sun-baked sea iguanas that chose to sleep anywhere they pleased, trees full of pelicans, radioactive red crabs scuttling across black lava rock. At the station we met the great, giant tortoises, as well as startling gold land iguanas, fatter and far more regal than their sea-faring cousins.

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Golden land iguana, Galapagos

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Determined to make the most of our time we set daily alarms to be up around dawn. The following morning we headed out or a days’ kayaking, packing breakfast and the ever-necessary sun block. With rough directions we made it across the busy boat thoroughfare and the worst of the waves, and were soon tying our kayak to the nearest pier. It was here we encountered our first animal intervention – a large, slumbering sea lion that blocked us from climbing the steps out of the water. In due respect to the native residents we scrabbled up the rocks instead, tiny red crabs disappearing into holes around our feet.

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Gate keeper

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We took the short path away from the pier and emerged at Playa de Los Perros, a stretch of rocky beach and black lava outcrop. There were no other people in sight, but as we set down for our basic breakfast (bread, cream cheese, water) we were soon being eye-balled by great male sea iguanas as they ambled towards the shore. Once fed we took the path back to the pier and dug out the snorkels, following snaking lines of fish along the waters’ edge and encountering our first lazy green turtles, chewing on sea grass a few feet away.

On our way back we took a detour into a small inlet, paddling alongside busy iguanas crossing the water, and a solitary blue-footed boobie sitting on the surface. Soon the tell-tale splashes around us revealed two young sea lions, apparently keen to show off their best Eskimo rolls. Tackling the stretch across to the main pier proved trickier this time around, but properly soaked and seriously sun-baked, we pulled ourselves ashore.

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Boobie

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The following day brought an early-morning dive, our group heading out to a crop of smaller islands on an impressive sailing boat. There wasn’t time to hang about  – the choppy sea and strong currents meant we had to descend as soon as we were in the water – but once submerged, the setting was altogether calmer. Minutes in, we saw what we’d come for: two huge hammerhead sharks an arms’ length from us. Later, the current would pick up and sling-shot us across the water; while I tried to remain roughly horizontal, Chris decided it was the optimum time to make the waggley-antennae sign for “lobster”. Needless to say, while travelling at 100 miles an hour upside-down underwater, I didn’t see it.

A 2 hour, bumpy boat ride took us across to Isabella island the following day. Once properly orientated we went to the local snorkelling spot, an inlet surrounded on one side by mangroves, and a working pier on the other. After picking our way past the obligatory iguanas and sea lions, we jumped in. At first swimming around great groups of flailing tourists, we soon found dark corners filled with fish, and a solitary ray. Aware of excitement across the bay, we set off at speed, stopping in our tracks and spluttering a gargled “look!” when two tiny Galapagos penguins dove past us at great pace.

Next we hired two old mountain bikes and made for the Wall of Tears, a monument-cum-torture instrument built by prisoners in the late 1940s. En route we were required to slow down for haphazardly stationed giant tortoises, enjoying the foliage along the path. As we turned back towards home we stopped at various signposted lakes and beaches, emerging from amongst the mangroves to spot blue-footed boobies, fluorescent pink flamingos, and a breeding centre filled with tortoises ranging from tiny to tremendous.

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Thursday.

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Our final day on Isabella was spent heading out to Las Tintoreras, a volcanic island a short boat ride away. From there we could spot grey herons shielding young chicks from the spray, erratically tufted baby penguins and imperious pelicans dotted along the shore. Further in there were piles upon piles of baby sea iguanas basking on the rocks, as well as a sharp-eyed lava heron desperately seeking the magically camouflaged octopus below it. Later we made for the best snorkelling spots, swimming alongside great green turtles and giant parrot fish. Alone with just our guide, we spotted something to our left: a huge alpha male sea lion swimming directly beneath us, its face turned up to contemplate us as it passed.

Coming to the end of our trip, we took another bumpy boat to San Cristobal, an island famed for its preponderance of sea lions. Pavements, park benches, car parks and fountains were all fair game and our time there was accompanied by a symphony of barks, sneezes and grunts from our flippered friends. From here we set out for Kickers Rock, a well-known dive spot set into a natural slice between two rocks in the middle of the ocean. Once again the current was fierce, forcing us to grip on to the sea floor to keep from shooting backwards. Though visibility was poor, our second dive would bring an awesome sight: a wall of fish, more than 15ft tall, that would shift and glisten and envelop us to the point where, for a second, we couldn’t see our fellow divers any more.

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Yesterday's dive site – Kicker's Rock

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Back on dry land we took a taxi to Loberia Beach, aptly named for its popularity with ‘lobo marinos’, the ever-present sea lions. In a small rock pool four babies played; keeping our distance, we sat a few feet away, though close enough for the bravest to have a sniff at our toes. As the day progressed the larger females returned from the sea. This being mating season, they were on the warpath – quickly discovered as one particularly grumpy female charged straight at me as I innocently sat on the beach.

Finally back where we started, we waved a sad goodbye as our plane headed back to the mainland. The following days would be spent on day-long buses travelling through busy urban centres – a stark contrast to the beauty and stunning diversity of the Galapagos, and much the worse for the lack of sea lions promenading down the motorway.

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Baby sea lions, Loberia Beach

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Galleti, Quito, Ecuador

I´ve written before about how a well-made cup of coffee can feel like the biggest treat for a weary traveller. But it´s becoming increasingly clear that the cafes we choose signify something more; as we find ourselves once again in the most middle class coffee shop we can find, it appears that we´re also pressing pause on the trip itself.

That´s not to suggest that we´re not having a wonderful time. But with each new country there are new challenges to face, be it different words or local phrases not found in any dictionary, vast cities that stretch as far as the eye can see (and the fast and ever-flowing river of traffic that come with them) or just a different sense of how safe the neighbourhood you´re in really is. Each morning we prepare ourselves for these adventures with the requisite caffiene, and often seek somewhere that most resembles home to ease ourselves into the day. As a result, we find ourselves in cafes and restaurants full of tourists, not locals, and there´s an inevitable tug on our conscience that we´re not doing things the ´right´ way.

We´ve learnt to seek out our morning pit-stops by recognising tell-tales signs: parasols or wrought-iron balconies, old and important looking buildings nearby, preferably a courtyard or plaza with young and trendy business folk bustling across it. Galleti ticked all the boxes: a coffee museum and shop based in the old bowels of an ancient church, its cafe and tea emporium upstairs with window seats that allowed us to look over Plaza Grande below. Once discovered, it became our regular for the five days we were to spend in Quito, offering as it did beautiful coffees made with Ecuadorian beans, kind staff, great music and a host of decadent cakes served in door-stop proportions.

As expected, we sat among more travellers than Ecuadorians, but, while it was decidely upmarket, it did in fact reflect the cosmopolitan feel of the historic centre of the city. For this is something else we´ve discovered: in our pursuit of an ´authentic´ Latin American experience, it´s easy to forget that many cities have a very middle class and modern element to them. Certainly people of Mexico City, Bogota, Quito and others would challenge the dirt-road-and-a-donkey stereotype of Latin America (though, sprawling as the cities are, there is always a stark contrast between the rich and poor, as with anywhere you go). And, should we need to, we can assuage our guilt thus: once we´re fully caffienated and duly prepared, we can set off to explore our surroundings in much finer detail.

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Azimo’s, Bogota, Colombia

There had been a brief hiatus to my stay in Bogota. It being the festive season I decided to come over all Chris Rea and drive (fly) home for Christmas as a surprise for my family, and in particular the new baby who was topping up the female to male ratio in our immediate set up quite nicely. It also meant abandoning the Egg Poacher for 2 weeks, who coped admirably despite enduring illness, a set of new front teeth and the impolitely timed construction work going on above our flat. Nevertheless, by the time I was getting ready to pick up my backpack again I was receiving photo updates showing him with all hair shorn from his head, wrapped in a blanket, in the dark. Probably time to make a move.

I’d spent a week in Bogota before I left, so setting down amongst the mountains and passing the many and various walls covered in street art on the bus felt like returning to familiar ground, helping me not to feel too spun around by the last fortnight of festivities, and the fact that less than 48 hours ago I had been sitting in my family home with a sleeping niece in my lap. Despite recognising the sights, there was much still to explore, and this time with my own personal guide who’d spent a lot of time walking the city (though admittedly mainly to and from the dentist, chock full of painkillers).

Our first stop would be Azimo’s, a cafe-deli-bakery accommodatingly just around the corner from our apartment in the Macarena neighbourhood. We already felt at home in this part of town as it bore an uncanny resemblance to Stokes Croft in Bristol where we’d lived for 5 years before jacking in all responsibilities: local breweries, cosy restaurants, the occasional bleary-eyed ocal with a few opinions to holler into the dark night. Azimo’s followed the same creative, gentrified pattern we’d seen elsewhere with a space full of sunshine from the enormous sky light, recycled lampshades, walls dotted with chalkboards and potted plants, a focus on local and organic, and a cool and well-heeled clientele.

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Azimo's is where the cool kids hang…

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The food is made on-site and much of it comes from their own bakery; light, crisp pastries and delicious bread, as well as cakes, juices and freshly ground coffee. The staff are laid back and seemed a bit unfamiliar with the menu, but they are happy for people to set up camp with the paper or their laptop, and the brunch, though not massive, was pretty good. At weekends the place fills with fashionable students and off-duty business folk who fill the golden banquette that lines one side of the room. This being fashionable Macarena, it’s not the cheapest breakfast in town, but it’s sure to be our new home from home for our remaining ten days in Bogota (and a blessed relief from the drilling upstairs).

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Back to #brunch business in #Bogota

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Coffee, the traveller’s treat: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Colombia

Having made it from one end of Central America to the other, we are, by now, fairly used to travelling by bus.  In Mexico we started slowly, opting for plush coaches to tackle day-long journeys. In Guatemala and Nicaragua we favoured the chicken bus, where more people than you can possibly imagine are pushed on, usually to the soundtrack of loud reggaeton and the competing yells of people selling food, drinks or disposable razors while miraculously squeezing between hot and grumpy human sardines. Costa Rica and Panama opt more for the wide-bottomed single decker, where most get a seat and fewer people share the aisle. Generally, the speed is somewhat reduced here too, though bus drivers in almost every country seem to take an indifferent approach to traffic lanes, other vehicles or slow-moving pedestrians.

Despite the occasional sharp intake of breath when a chicken bus plays chicken with another chicken bus, there’s lots to be said for this mode of transport: you’re in amongst the locals, and will often be engaged in conversation or a friendly staring contest with a tiny child; hilarity levels rise as the number of passengers reaches ridiculous proportions, and it is almost always unbelievably cheap. We’ve travelled hundreds of miles for tiny amounts, even with the occasional ‘tourist tax’ added on. It’s so cheap, in fact, that we can find ourselves spending far more on the coffee we reward ourselves with on arriving than the entire journey itself. (Bus station coffee is scalding hot, readily available and cheap, but, coffee snobs that we are, generally ear-marked for emergencies only.)

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Cafe Loco, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Having hiked our way to Lago Atitlan and settled ourselves in hilly Santa Cruz, it would be a short and soggy boat ride to the villages dotted around the lake. Panajachel is best known for its thoroughfare of stalls, selling all manner of tourist tat and offering fried chicken every hundred metres. We didn’t hold much hope for breakfast, but, in coffee at least, we would be very pleasantly surprised. Hidden amongst the hammocks and ‘authentic’ Guatemalan outifts, Cafe Loco is easy to miss – but this would be a terrible shame. Framed barista awards from around the world nod to the skill within these walls; the giant, gleaming coffee machine and its industrial-sized water filter are the well-tended tools of the trade. The menu is a coffee lovers dream, with every combination conceivable. We opted for a simple latte – blended to perfection – and something more akin to a fine cognac than a cortado: a deep, dark shot of espresso, topped with an exact measurement of foam, served in a glass tumbler and pronounced the Egg Poacher’s Best Coffee, ever. The owners left Korea and learnt their skills in New York, Barcelona and London. Luckily for Guatemalans, they seem set to stay.

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Serious beans need serious machines #coffeeporn

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Espressonista, Granada, Nicaragua

Having woken at dawn and taken three buses that screamed through countryside and crawled through busy towns, we arrived, hot and dusty, in Granada. Our hostel was close to the ubiquitous Parque Central, and we were soon following our noses in search of caffiene. Espressonista came up with the goods. Inside the high ceilings, potted plants and interior courtyard gave an airy, tropical feel, while calming electro, striking modern art and beautiful staff added a trace of hipster. As well as complicated salads and an expensive wine list, there were freshly whipped cakes and a host of European coffees on offer. Soon the early start and strains from a bumpy ride had dissolved. Despite the price – more than three times what we’d paid to travel for four hours, though still only amounting to about $12 – we didn’t begrude the expense, chalking this one up as a well-earned (and very well-made) treat.

Como en mi Casa, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We didn’t plan on being in Puerto Viejo for long, using it as an overnight stop before crossing the border into Panama. Having stayed – and quickly left – our first hostel (home to giant cockroaches and run by highly-strung travellers who forgot to leave) we looked forward to moving on; but not, of course, without breakfast first. Como en mi Casa fits with the town’s hippy theme nicely, run by friendly vegetarians with a penchant for tattoos and comfortable sandals. There are all manner of soya, raw and vegan options, as well as real milk for those less averse to all things bovine. The coffee here is strong and flavourful, and our cakes so well-intentioned (raw strawberry muffin and gluten- and dairy-free pancakes) we might have even lost weight eating them. Or there’s the hope.

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All you need is love. And pancakes. #puertoviejo

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Museo de Antiquoia, Medellin, Colombia

We set down in Colombia late at night, so only had the sea of lights to guide our impression of the very sizeable Medellin. By morning the unique landscape was revealed – great swathes of high rises that cover the hills all around, with an equally built up and bustling centre. Despite the fact that everything is industrial-sized, the city is not without its charms: a shiny, new Metro whisks people across the city, allowing us to sample the noisy centre dotted with old churches and galleries, or the far lusher and calmer Botanical Gardens in the university district. On our first morning we opted to head straight into the city’s heart to take in the wonderfully rotund sculptures of Fernando Botero, a man with great fondness for boobs and bums (and not necessarily only on the ladies). There’s a gallery dedicated to him, too, and though the attached cafe might not have had the best coffee in the world, the setting – overlooking the square, aforementioned bums in view – is hard to beat.

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Cerro Chirripo Hike, San Gerardo, Costa Rica

Hiking. What’s that all about then?

Having just completed our third hike, I must confess – I’m none the wiser. Admittedly, this was a far more successful climb than the last one, which will be known forever more as The Hike of Death. It turns out that Costa Rica knows how to do its national parks, with clearly marked signs each kilometer, playful names for every section and even motivational mottos to keep the flagging energised. This time round we would not be relying on blind luck and the kindness of wandering watermelon farmers to get us home.

And it started extremely well. Sensibly packed with enough water and food rations for at least a week, we left ourselves the whole day to reach base camp, where we’d stay before pushing on for the top. Setting off at 4am and climbing upwards in the dark, we were breakfasting on hot coffee and homemade brownies by 5, overlooking the valley below as the sun glimpsed from behind the tallest of many peaks. Beyond the first official resting stop the terrain grew pretty steep, but the landscapes were varied and interesting – cloud forest full of curious birds, spooky grey bracken and stripped trees, engulfed in wispy fog. As we trekked Chris happily hummed the Jurassic Park theme, no doubt imagining himself as Sam Neill, hat and all. Brandishing as I was a large walking stick, and with Chris’s well-defined and hairy calve muscles in my direct line of sight, I was feeling more Gandalf than Goldblum. By the time we reached base camp, the air was thin and our bodies were tired, but we were pleasantly surprised that we’d made it by 11am. The base was overpriced and basic, but within minutes we were wrapped in blankets and huddled like penguins, fast asleep.

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After a fairly uninspiring meal served by a surly chef, we had an early night and set the alarm for 2am. Creeping out of our dorm room and armed with torches, we were soon picking our way towards the summit. In the main the trail was clear, and the only time we questioned our night hike was when we had to use hands as well as feet to clamber to the top. But we were rewarded with the Costa Rican flag snapping in the wind and a clearly painted sign to tell us we’d reached our destination. We didn’t have long to wait before sunrise, which was lucky as we were the coldest we have ever been – even with all extremities covered, it occurred to us that we might never have feeling in our hands again. Yet the view was more than compensation. As spears of pink darted across the horizon, the folds of mountain and deep, cratered rock around us were revealed. Beyond, and very faintly, we could see both seas, to the east and west. And, amazingly, it was ours to enjoy alone.

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Duly rewarded we set off back to base to collect the rest of our stuff. By 8am we were on the move, ready to tackle the 14k back home. Or so we thought. On reflection, and despite popular opinion, down is not always better than up. Having seen the landscape once, it feels a bit like overkill having to pass through it all again, at least by the time your knees have started to feel like balls of fire with every laboured step down. And while this time the descent didn’t involve getting lost, it did involve torrential rain, hitting about the half-way point and acting like cold, sneaky fingers that work their way into collars, cuffs and waistlines and turning the formely robust path into a mulchy slide.

With three hikes now behind me I’ve realised something – hiking brings me out in a rage. All rationality goes out the window: if Chris dares to suggest that, perhaps, my toddler-like pace might be quickened, I feel utterly affronted; the occasional mosquito on the way up become scheming, evil swarms determined to fox my every move; each slip or step in ankle-deep mud is Mother Nature herself slapping me in the face. And there’s something else. I am not designed for hiking. My back aches within an hour and my ridiculous flat feet barely keep me upright when standing still. What’s more, there is not a competitive bone in my body. I blame my arts-led school: where elsewhere children were encouraged to fight for that cup, or medal, or title, our school were busy using rugby balls as papier mache mask moulds for the next school play.

Ultimately though, it’s not the discomfort, the mud, or the rain that is to blame. The problem, I’ve realised, is ourselves. We chose to climb this mountain. We put ourselves in this situation; hell, we even paid for it! Chris spent a good 3 days trying to phone someone to arrange a permit and the first time he got through a woman screamed at him in rapid Spanish while apparently in the midst of a fist fight in a wind tunnel. Just to get to the right town involved three buses, two taxis and a punishing climb, laden with all of our belongings.

But it’s the strangest thing – as soon as the pain is over, it’s forgotten. Once we reached Casa Mariposa – mercifully at the trail’s end, and one of the nicest places we’ve stayed – all was forgiven. We even revelled in our aches, acting as they did as the contrast to the pure joy of a hot shower and a proper bed. It’s like tattoos, or child birth, or golf – in the relief of getting through it, you’re somehow convinced it was a good idea all along.

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Madera Volcano Hike, Ometepe, Nicaragua

Buoyed by the success of our first hike, we felt ready to tackle another. So confident were we that we decided to forego the usual research, deeming a quick scan through the first of many travel blogs sufficient.  Somewhere, someone said we could walk up Madera Volcano (Ometepe) without a guide. That was good enough for us.

That morning, the breakfast we thought we’d pre-ordered didn’t materialise so we opted for some slices of bag-squashed bread with a light spread of bag-dried peanut butter, all washed down with three large mugs of sweet coffee. Setting off around 9am, we were sure we’d be back well within the 8 hours proclaimed on the sign at the foot of the national park, and we’d packed accordingly: one bottle of water and a handful of crackers was all we’d need.

Things started well. Within minutes we were surrounded by nature’s loudest alarm, the guttural call of a family of howler monkeys. Soon we could see the tell-tale dip in the branches as they moved closer, and found ourselves looking straight at them as they hung from their tails to get a closer look. After the obligatory photo shoot, we left them to their breakfast and were soon hiking up through the wet forest, sweating buckets as the humidity clung on. The combination of heat and poor hydration started to take its toll earlier than usual, and I had to stop regularly to catch my breath. During one breather the trees above began to sway and were soon filled with the much smaller capuchin monkeys. Cute as they were, we’d both watched enough David Attenborough to know that their somewhat sketchy demeanour suggested we were on their patch. So, filling our lungs as best we could, we carried on.

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The terrain was punishing. When not churned mud, the ground was covered in a metro map of tree roots, or, even better, actual swamp. We met two groups coming down as we ascended: the first said nothing but “good luck”, their mud soaked trousers giving a hint of what was still to come. The second only asked where our guide was, with panic in their eyes. As we headed roughly upwards, the slope grew even steeper, and as each bend revealed ever more climb we realised we had to ration our dwindling water supplies. Further ahead entire felled trees blocked our path and we had to rely on low-slung vines to help us make it across the deepest mud. More than once I misjudged the height of the trees above me and clattered into hard wood; finally, a branch snapped backwards, catching me straight across the forehead. Determined not to cry, I instead was reduced to mono syllables – a sure sign that my patience for heading blindly upwards, away from home, was wearing thin.

Finally, after hours of clambering up rocky river beds, tripping over endless hidden, mud-covered tree roots and narrowly avoiding grabbing handfuls of ant-infested vegetation to break our fall, we reached the summit. The view across the lake was spectacular, and ours alone. Buzzards soared above our heads and the sea breeze flowed around the valley carved into the mountain as sunlight played on the lake below. It was a poetry-worthy sight.

To which my only contribution was to shout, as loudly as I could, “FUCK YOU, OUTDOORS!”image

Duly relieved of my frustration, we finished off the last of our water and started our way back, happy in the knowledge that we were heading back to civilisation. There was even a lightness to our steps as we tackled the trail in reverse, those same branches aiding our primate-like swings over the churned clay. My silence switched to happy banter as we dicussed which drinks we’d buy first when we emptied the nearest tienda of its supplies. Nothing but getting lost could put a dampner on my mood.

So, obviously, we got lost.

We hadn’t even noticed when we strayed from the right path, all mud and branches looking pretty much the same. It wasn’t until we hit new and thick, knotted coffee plantation that we realised something was amiss. We persevered with our chosen path, desperately trying to ignore the fact that the sun was setting. I tried to take comfort in the fact that coffee meant a finca, and fincas meant people, until I remembered we’d just been told that it was terrain exactly like this that had been used in the war between the FSLN and the contras on the Honduran border, because it was so easy to hide in – or hide the bodies in.

Despite the setting sun the heat was intense and with no water the panic levels started to rise. Chris had obviously read the alternative version of ‘How to Motivate People‘, using phrases like “I think we’re running out of light”, “we’re definitely not in the right place now” and, my personal favourite, “I know it’s dark, we’re lost and we’re going to die, but look at those ants – they’re all carrying leaves!” By this point any attempt to avoid getting muddier had been abandoned, and we staggered through deep puddles like drunk women walking home without their heels on, propelling ourselves forward head first and willing our feet to keep going.

The coffee plants were never ending, and the slope so steep and rocky we were falling at every third step. The shadows around us were growing longer and at one point we reached a dead end, with nothing but sheer drop into the vast lake below. Retracing our steps, we came to a cross-roads and had to make a choice – the wrong one and we’d be heading further in to uninhabited jungle. Parched beyond belief and with no way of knowing where we were, I’d settled into unhelpful, silent terror. The nadir of my internal over-reaction came around the time the expression “this too shall pass” flashed across my brain. Mercifully, it was ridiculous enough to snap me out of dramatism and make me focus on finding our way out.image

Finally, the ground levelled and we found ourselves in recently worked fields. We eyed plastic rubbish dotted here and there in hope of half-finished drinks, and followed the well worn trail in what we hoped was the direction of town. And then, at last, we spotted human life – a farmer taking his cows to the river. Sweaty, pale and babbling a stream of poorly expressed Spanish, we must have looked insane. Thankfully, he didn’t run away and instead simply nodded, beckoning us to his camp with a wave.

As we collapsed in a heap, we roused the farmer’s son, who emerged from his hammock with a curious grin. It transpired we weren’t the only idiot tourists to have got lost here; they’d rescued others before. In fact, the farmer knew just what to do, appearing from behind us with two freshly cut watermelons, still hot from the sun. What followed was not refined, with both of us setting about the slices of fruit with pure, animalistic desperation. Chris at least attempted basic conversation while I sunk my whole face into the sweet flesh, gurgling and dribbling with utter abandon.

The farmer’s son – Miguel – took us the rest of the way to the main road, though not before revealing that someone had died getting lost on Madera at night. As we ached our way home, the darkness fully set in and a thunder storm rolling in around the mountain, we resolved to never, ever be that stupid again.image

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