A year ago today I boarded a plane in London for Madrid, and began a journey that has taken me through fourteen countries in 12 months, culminating back in Spain where I am now. Along the way I have had some amazing high points, and also without doubt some of the most challenging times of my life. The countries I have travelled through are, in this order:
12 months later I am speaking Spanish fairly well (albeit with multi-country accents & vocabulary), I’ve finally learnt some yoga, and I’m in the process of setting up an online English teaching business with an old friend here in Barcelona. You’ll be hearing more about this sooner rather than later as it should be ‘going live’ within the next couple of weeks.
Finally, I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the people I have met along the way. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you. Special thank-yous to: All at the Cooperative School in San Pedro, Sushi, Francisco, my mother, Paul, Serena, Jameson & Laney, Pete & Heidi, Svayam, Carlos & the Reina Madre crew in Buenos Aires, Rachel, Ben & Marina, Rory/James & Marcela in Spain, and Ana-Maria.
Having now spent more than six months travelling in Latin America, from Guatemala in Central America down to Peru, and having lived in Thailand for three years prior to this trip, I think I’m fairly well placed to write a quick comparison of the pros and cons of each destination. So here goes!
They’re going to battle it out on the following points:
Safety & personal security
This one is easy, in Thailand you can pretty much wander anywhere you like day or night, with cameras, phones and everything else on display. In Latin America, every city seems to have no-go zones, the bus terminal areas are like the Bronx, you just can’t trust taxi drivers, and something you hear more often than you’d like is “Es muy peligroso”.
This one is hard to judge as there is such a variety in costs across Latin America. Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru are vastly cheaper than Argentina and Chile. That being said, the average local meal in Thailand is about US$1, in Latin America it is probably about US$2. And travel is generally cheaper in Thailand.
Thailand is known as The Land of Smiles which says it all really. The moment you step off the plane in Bangkok, you’re made to feel totally at home with welcoming smiles wherever you go. BUT, and it’s a rather large but, is there a superficiality factor at play here? Are the smiles genuine, or dare I say just a clever ruse to empty your wallet?
There’s no doubt that it’s more a case of “what you see is what you get” in Latin America
Thailand has some unbeatable beaches, some amazing jungle and some interesting mountains. Latin America has smoking volcanoes, 6000 metre Andes peaks, tropical beaches, the Amazon and of course a plentiful supply of picturesque Spanish colonial architecture. Say no more.
Winner: Latin America
Thailand has Sukhothai, and a couple of other ‘ancient centres’ dating back a few hundred years. Latin America has its Spanish colonial heritage, many UNESCO World Heritage towns, and of course it’s dripping in pre-colombian cultures like the mysterious culture of San Augustin in Colombia – an archaeologist’s wet dream.
Winner: Latin America
Chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, f**K I’m bored…compared to possibly (along with India) the best and cheapest food on the planet in Thailand.
Music & entertainment
Repetetive Karaoke poop vs. Latin Rhythms, Salsa, Samba, Spanish influenced classical guitar, pan pipes…ahh just listen to the music!
Winner: Latin America
Language – Ease of learning the language
Spanish versus a strange tonal language that sounds like a cross between someone being strangled and animal noises, and is almost impossible to learn to read and write.
Winner: Latin America
How do the people express themselves? Do they get excited? Do they argue, debate, put their true feelings across? Do they kiss their lovers passionately in public? In Thailand, the natural response to anything whatsoever is to smile sweetly, and of course they wear their jeans and long-sleeved tops in the sea which is utterly ridiculous. In Latin America, the blood is hot.
Winner: Latin America
It’s a hard one. Latin America wins more outright points, but the food is stodgy and dull, it’s a bit more expensive and frankly it some places it’s downright dangerous. If you like safe and easy travel, Thailand is your place, but for the shear scale, diversity of landscapes and archaeological sites, and passion of the people, Latin America wins hands down.
Staying in Casco Viejo (the old town, pictured above in the foreground), we spent most of our time just wandering through the old colonial plazas and admiring the wonderful crumbling dereliction of the area.
In this podcast you will hear the sounds of the docks, a street musician, some street performers, the Panama Canal and we discuss some of the ‘personal security’ issues you need to be aware of if you decide to visit Panama City (following the robberies of two friends in a week).
Having met up with a couple of friends from London/Australia who’d hired a car, we squeezed in (see photo) and began driving down the South Coast of Costa Rica towards Panama.
After a couple of days, Tina and I jumped out at a crossroads, and waited for a bus down to Puerto Jimenez – one of the largest towns on the Osa Peninsula, on the borders of the Corcovado National Park. Corcovado National Park is widely considered the crown jewel in Costa Rica’s extensive system of national parks and biological reserves spread across the country. The ecological variety is quite stunning. National Geographic has called it “the most biologically intense place on Earth”.
Sadly we weren’t able to afford several hundred dollars for a trek into the national park, but instead bided our time wandering around the town and beach relaxing and admiring the friendly Cockatoos.
New Years Eve was a very chilled affair, a nice meal in an Italian restaurant and a few drinks with the Colombian manager of the hostel & his friends. After a few days, we headed onwards to Panama City.
Isla de Ometepe is definitely a good candidate for “eight wonder of the world”. It is an absolutely fantastic island and one of my favourite places in Central and South America.
Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanos rising from lake Nicaragua in the Republic of Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning two mountains: two volcanic peaks (Conception and Maderas) rise from the hazy blue expanse of Cocibolca, ‘the Sweet Sea’ and form an hourglass of beaches and jungles.
Isla de Ometepe has an area of 276 km². It is 31 km long and 5 to 10 km wide. The island has a population of 42,000, and an economy based on tourism, livestock and agriculture.
It has a hiding a wealth of archaeological treasures and a very romantic countryside. Thomas and I spent some of the most romantic time of our travels there.
San Juan del Sur is a coastal town on the Pacific Ocean, in south-west Nicaragua. The town is a popular tourist location because of its many nearby and spectacular beaches. San Juan del Sur is also popular among surfers and is a vacation spot for many Nicaraguan families and foreign tourists. It really is a good, unspoiled alternative to Costa Rica.
The population is approximately 18,500, comprised mostly of families engaged in fishing. There are plenty of Spanish schools in town making San Juan a perfect place to come and immerse yourself in the language and take home something more than a tan.
The surf is, however, not in San Juan del Sur itself "the waves are simply not big enough in town. We went to Madera beach about 10 km north of San Juan del Sur to surf. Madera beach is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful beach and when you don’t surf you can suntan and go for long walks. Amazing.
The video below gives you an idea about why Madera beach have become so popular – it simply is a stunning place!!
Isla de Ometepe and San Juan del Sur are two of the emerging tourist destinations in Nicaragua. We begin this podcast with sounds from the trip between Granada and Isla de Ometepe by boat, and finish up on the beach in San Juan del Sur via Maderas volcano & the jungle.
This podcast also contains sound clips from “Crazy Dave” himself, owner of Hideout Surf Camp on Maderas beach. If you’re looking for accommodation on Maderas beach and are thinking of staying there, we suggest you listen to this first :-).