I’ve been working as a tour leader around Central America for nearly 9 months now. Below is the map of the usual 7-week tour I run. It’s about time I chronicle the travel stories I’ve accumulated.
As I was brainstorming for this blog I tried to come up with snappy titles that would draw a prospective reader in. I decided on the current SACA title even though the verb ‘to sloth’ is somewhat made up. Plus my Autocorrect keeps changing it to “Clothing Around Central America”, a fashion blog which, given my lack of dress sense, would be a lot more boring. I can only hope the Oxford English Dictionary will soon recognise “slothing” as a legitimate verb.
My fifteen minutes of fame
Back in February I was published in the ‘Generation Emigration’ section of ‘The Irish Times’ featuring my work as a tour leader in Central America, a region many people back home wouldn’t know a lot about. I saw the results of an online poll that showed 42% of respondents thought Nicaragua was located in Africa. Mad.
I hoped the article would inspire people to travel to these countries that seem a world away. It seems to have had at least one success anyway. A Roscommon man on tour recently told me he decided to travel to Central America after reading my article back then. Plus he happened to get me as tour leader. Such a small world!
I currently have three weeks time off work in between tours (low season’s a bitch) so I have made plans to explore Panama and Belize, two of the most intriguing countries in the region.
The first few nights this week were spent on the island of Senidup in the San Blas islands. They should be renamed the San Bliss islands – they are some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Sure look at the photo above. There are various islands to choose from but all are run by indigenous Kuna Yala families and involve sleeping in thatch huts, home-cooked meals, and hammocks. All you have is sun, sea, and sand. Excursions to even more beautiful islands can be arranged too. Plus a night’s stay and all meals work out to $26 a day. San Bliss.
Immigration tips and 'tips'
Immigration officials can accept monetary tips for a more efficient service in certain Central American countries. Tipping creates a bidding war in border queues. Back in April on the Honduras to Nicaragua border my group’s passports were processed first, despite me being third in the queue, because I outbid my competitors ahead of me. It’s part of the dark arts of tour leading. However other countries forbid this kind of incentive.
A few weeks after that issue I had a problem on the Costa Rica to Panama border as a client did not have the necessary entry stamp into Costa Rica. Negotiation on borders, in Spanish, can be challenging, but I knew I couldn’t ‘tip’ Mr Immigration in Costa Rica, or else I’d probably end up in a cell. After much arguing (read pleading) we eventually all got through fine. You never stop learning in this job.