Cave jumping and the ‘pure white stuff’

St Patricks Day in Nicaragua

To celebrate our Irish holiday on the 17th of March this year I searched around León in Nicaragua looking for decorations. In vain, as it turned out.

The majority of shop owners had not even heard of my country’s patron saint, let alone the country of Ireland itself. I tried to explain the concept of everyone dressing in green for the day (I temporarily left out the drinking aspect) but it was a waste of my efforts. I gave up after the fifth attempt when the man behind the counter replied: “Ireland? I thought that was part of England, no?” Oh dear.

In the end myself and the tour group painted the town green. They’ll know about Patrick’s Day in León next year anyway! We got to Granada the next day on the 18th where ironically there is an Irish bar, O’Shea’s, run by a former farmer from North Dublin. So we could celebrate properly even if it was a day late. Thank Guinness for that.

Worst Driving Award: Panama City

The roads around here generally aren’t to the same standard as Europe, for obvious reasons, but the driving style would get you banned from European roads within a few months. The worst I have seen is Panama City. Every taxi ride should be advertised as if it were its own rollercoaster at Disneyland. You’d be amazed to discover Panama has no current Formula 1 drivers, although considering the majority of cars have major dents or scratches, that may not be too much of a surprise.

You take your life into your own hands as a pedestrian when crossing the road. I usually have no problem crossing roads at any point (a bad habit from living in Dublin’s city centre) but here I always stick to the crossing points. Also if there is a local person crossing at the same time I tend to shadow their movements. They know what they’re doing, right?

‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’

Gabriel García Márquez was one of the greatest authors of our generation. ‘A Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ remains one of my favourite books, although maybe that’s because I had to study his work for four years back in college.

Following his death I wanted to finally read what many regard as his masterpiece, the book that won him the Nobel Prize for literature, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. I ambitiously bought the Spanish version, thinking it would improve my Spanish further, but I have only succeeded in overcomplicated an already dense plot. I am not even halfway through the book despite having started it way back in April. The way it’s going, it might even take me a hundred years to finish the damn thing.

Christmas Cave Jumping

I spent Christmas Day last year jumping into underground caves in the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. This activity is one of the most popular optional excursions we offer on tour. There are over 1,000 of these caves and sinkholes, called ‘cenotes’, in the permeable limestone region of the Yucatán.

Each ‘cenote’ is unique and memorable in their own way. The refraction of the sunlight hitting the water makes for some absolutely stunning photos. I Skyped my family back home after they had finished their Christmas dinner and tried to explain the concept of a ‘cenote’, but it’s hard to describe without photos.

These pictures are from our guide Raúl in the ‘cenotes’ at Cuzama, about an hour from our hotel base in Mérida. Let the pictures tell you everything – this is special.

The "Pure White Stuff"

Our van was searched by police at the Costa Rica to Panama border at Sixaola last week. Usually this is a cursory glance around the occupants of the van, but this time round they opened up the van, checked passports, and asked a few questions:

Police: “What are you carrying?”
Driver: “Just the pure white stuff.” [Gestures to us tourists]
Police: “Oh they’re definitely contraband alright! Go on.”

It’s nice to see the locals can have a bit of a laugh at us foreigners’ expense. Although later on the driver revealed to me the actual reason they searched the van was the escaping of three prisoners from the local jail. Joke’s on us.