Our Big Family Adventure was all about spending 6 months in Costa Rica. The plan was to find a great little casita on a beach and just relax, learn about the culture and do some day trips from there. Our visas would only last 90 days, so we would do a short ‘border run’ to the closest country, Nicaragua, for a couple of days right around the half way mark.
It didn’t take us long to be reminded of what we’ve long known to be true: the best travels have few plans. After only one month on the beach, we felt the itch to move on so we headed inland and up the mountains to the gorgeous Central Valley. We found a beautiful house in Grecia (come have a tour), and explored the nearby areas. Then, 6 weeks later we decided to leave the country!
Instead of just doing a 2-3 day border run trip to Nicaragua to get our passports stamped, we decided to stay a little longer and get to know it a bit. Our Canadian dollar has been slowly sinking since we left home, so spending some time in Nicaragua would greatly help our budget.
While looking for an apartment in San Juan del Sur for the month of January, we were approached on Facebook by an American couple who wanted to travel home for Christmas and needed someone to take care of their farm, their animals and 8 dogs while they were away. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into but we said yes because, after all, we are on an adventure!
So we spent the next 3 weeks living on a 34 acre farm, feeding and caring for 8 dogs, 2 cats, 20 chickens, 11 goats, 8 horses & 2 donkeys. Check out our house tour. Luckily for us, there was a full-time maid and a full-time animal caretaker. Our biggest job was to make sure we were home every day by 5 pm and all weekend, while there was no hired help present. And of course to love and care for these great dogs.
What is a chicken bus? In the US and Canada a school bus is retired after a specified number of years, miles, or an inspection failure. Many of them are shipped to developing nations, where they are used as public transportation between communities.
I found this description online: “You hand the driver about seven cents, along with your pack, or your bundle of wool, or your trussed goat… or your washing machine, and he climbs to the roof and manhandles it up there. After you’re sure he’s secured it for the ride, you and your chickens climb inside….”
The buses are often painted in bright colors and fitted with luggage racks and hand rails on the ceiling. All of this ensures that pretty much an entire town can squeeze in, and still have a little bit of space to stop and pick up a dozen or so more people – just when you think the bus is full! If personal space is important to you, you might want to take a cab.
Once our farm sit was over, we moved into a little apartment right in town. Although the kids LOVED the farm, all of the dogs, and even the chicken bus, we were very happy to be able to finally see our first sunset on the beach.
This very quickly became a nightly activity, showing up at the beach right at
happy hour sunset. Ok, so we needed a place to change into our swim gear, and we didn’t want to just sneak into one of the beautiful beach restaurants to use their washrooms without at least buying something small, so a happy hour beer was the perfect solution.
We would settle into those comfy beach chairs, order a couple of ice cold Toña beers for $1 and take turns playing in the warm Pacific Ocean as the sun went down. We were surrounded by happy people, nice music and a certain calmness that magically appears at dusk.
When we weren’t relaxing on the beach, San Juan offered us an endless choice of activities, and we managed to fit a lot of them in to our 6 week visit.
We went zip lining at the highest point in San Juan, with a 360 degree view: the Pacific Ocean in one direction, and Lake Nicaragua in the other, complete with Ometepe’s twin volcanoes. This was a huge highlight of our trip and well worth every penny! [Parque de Aventura Las Nubes $30 per person]
We went on several hikes, one of them being to the top of the hill overlooking the San Juan bay to see the Christ of Mercy Statue. Erected in 2009, it stands about 78 feet tall and is one of the 10 tallest Jesus Statues in the world. [admission at top: $2 per person]
We found a super fun boat excursion that we enjoyed so much that we did it twice! It started with a private bus ride to a beautiful remote beach called Playa Gigante, where we boarded a 34 foot catamaran and took sail. Included in our day was cliff jumping, an awesome cave swim, breakfast and free beverages (a.k.a. “pirate juice”, beer and water). We then sailed back to the beach where we got to swim and hang out with all of our new friends on a patio, before boarding the bus back to San Juan. Check out the cool video we put together to share our day! [Breakfast Adventure Sail: $45 per adult, $30 per child]
Another amazing highlight of our adventure so far was our 2 day side trip to Ometepe Island. Sitting on the Colcibolca, the great Lake of Nicaragua, the hour glass shaped island contains not one but 2 volcanoes, separated by a thin flat isthmus. ‘Windy season’ had just started days before our arrival, so our boat ride from the mainland was an adventure in itself. But once we survived the ocean-sized waves, we enjoyed the beauty and serenity of this island, often touted as the ‘Oasis of Peace’. We toured the island on scooters, bathed in the natural spring water of Ojo de Agua, and watched the most amazing sunset from Punta Jesus Maria with Volcano Concepcion towering behind us. Two days was not nearly enough to do and see everything there is to see, so if you find yourself with the good fortune of going to Ometepe, make sure you book at least a week.
So what was once thought of as a short 2 day border run quickly turned into 6 of the best weeks of our adventure so far. Nicaragua was barely on our radar but we can now say that we can’t wait to go back. We met some amazing people with whom we hope to stay in touch for a long time to come. Each of the items listed above really could have filled their own blog post, so we apologize for getting behind and packing it into one shortened story.
Every day seems to bring on something new and exciting and sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming to try to share it as fast as it’s happening. So thank for your patience, and thank you for following our amazing adventure!
Till next time,
Nancy & Ian