As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. In our case this often proves to be true. During our travels, by definition, we avoid as much as we can touristy places. We simply want to experience more the true, local flavors. Such an approach has at least one nice side effect. It is much cheaper that way – sometimes three times cheaper!! What we like best in the “off-the-beaten–track” is authenticity of people and surroundings.
One of the many adventures I would like share was when a complete stranger we bumped into on Ometepe island, Nicaragua, took us to his relatives’ farm to taste the local moonshine rice rum, called Cucusa . BTW, in local slang cucusa means an ugly woman yet the whole experience was very pleasant. The rum was served professionally from a huge vessel in an old shack behind the main building. The alcohol tasting was paired with wedges of lime and oranges and salt. After the successful test I bought some more cucusa for further tasting with Ania. It was packed by the host in an old Pepsi bottle. Unlike in other parts of the world Pepsi seems to dominate in Central America, which our Pepsi friends will find pleasing to hear I am sure . Back to Cucusa it tastes great with honey and is extremely powerful, especially in the local heat. Most of all, it is absolutely the real McCoy not some mass-produced “Flor de Cana” rum.
Another aspect of authenticity is the way of travelling and eating. The locals do not travel in air-conditioned, first-class buses, nor visit western restaurants (sorry my company, Amrest ). In our travels we try to use local cheap means of transportation. True, it is less comfortable and slower but so much more interesting. Besides, we are not in a hurry! We are often amazed how many people can be fit into a local chicken bus (an old school bus from North America, which after 20 years of service, serves another 20-30 years somewhere in Central America carrying people), or a small bus. The same autheniticity applies to food. The local cuisine is cheap and tasty. We will write more about the food in a seperate post later on.
As for cheap travelling, we had so much fun on the way from Corintho (border between Honduras and Guatemala) to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. After putting our backpacks on the roof of the van we set off on a journey having some extra space in the 10-person van. Half an hour later and collecting more people along the way the kids counted as many as 24 passengers travelling on the van with many of them carrying big sacks, bowls or machetes for field work. Since some of them could not fit into the van they were travelling hanging on the sides of the car, which was making 80-90 km/h. To top it off, in the background there was the neverending loud music of all kinds coming from the car audio at the top volume!!
On the chicken buses, mentioned before, once the bus seems too full to accommodate anybody else, plenty of peddlers get on in some amazing way and start offering their wares. They include all kinds of food, English courses, drinks, clothing, all kinds of medicine for different ailments etc. Generally, whatever your heart desires, unlike on the Polish trains, where they even discontinued the restaurant cars called WARS.
BTW, it is quite common for us to bump into other tourists in our travels. We have never met a travelling family during the past 2,5 months though. As for tourists, they usually fall into two groups. The former is quite easy to identify, by sunglasses, pale skin, stressed and tense faces and expressing loudly opinions about whatever topic, as if anybody else cared. We prefer contacts with the other group, travelling in a modest way, open to the local culture and other people. The latter people are often an invaluable source of information about places worth visiting, in addition to the internet. I do not recommend using tourist guides, even the best ones us Lonely Planet. The moment they are issued they are said to be 2-3 years outdated already. Besides, the places recommended in those books are, because of the very recommendation, usually more expensive than others.
The best source of travel information is simply other people. Thanks to such recommendations and Spanish we have managed to save a lot of money already by chosing smartly. Because of such recommendations we have decided not to go to the overated Belize. We are also thinking about skipping Mexico, where we had already been before, and focus on exploring the beautiful land of Guatemala until our departure from Central America on May 22.
Concluding a few more words about pick-up trucks. In the US many people drive pick-ups, yet do not seem to be using their full potential carrying plenty of air most of the time. Here a pick-up truck gets almost always fully used, for example to carry a family from Poland . Check out the below videos.
Savvy travels – video
Rio Dulce – Flores Bus_Guatemala
Corintho – Puerto Barrios Bus_Guatemala