Solo Travelers, Are We Safe?

Is it safe for the single female to travel through Central America? It depends on who you ask.

Deciding to get “off the grid” 6 months ago took me to the quaint little island off of Nicaragua, Little Corn Island, for a week. Located about 50 miles east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and only about 1.5 sq miles in size, but an oasis of tranquility, and a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the U.S. The only fear that registered was driving through Miami to the airport.

I arrived on Little Corn Island at sunset on a local Panga boat and all I could do was smile from ear to ear. This little island had more personality than anything I had come across in a long time.
He dropped me onto the sand beach and the most unique tropical island complete with local dogs running loose, the smell of lobster grilling and music coming from one of the few cafe/bars on the island. Lobster being the main export certainly was a plus right at arrival and dinnertime.

There were no cars on the island which means no roads which means no street lights so I was glad I had done my homework and had brought my flashlight for walking after dark down the sidewalk. I was welcomed by friendly, fast speaking locals, expats and those like myself, whom were on a new adventure in uncharted territory. What a hoot! Being a boat captain and long time scuba diver I felt right at home on this lush, remote paradise minus the comfort of a/c. The island’s generator had gone down that morning and still was not working by the time I left.

Being a female and traveling alone, I sometimes get funny looks or a shocked expression but I love to travel alone and there on Little Corn never did I feel uncomfortable or threatened. Of course I am always aware of my surroundings and make sure I don’t find myself in any seedy areas alone and always keep my belongings close.

My days were spent diving, snorkeling, exploring the island, reading in the waterfront hammocks and watching the kids play in the water with their friends and dogs. Afternoons were spent at one of the openair cafe’s waiting for the hotel’s backup generator to kick on to enjoy a cool shower and a short nap before the nightlife picked up.

The local fishermen could be seen daily sitting in the shade preparing bait for their lobster pots while the recently established police department’s patrol woman stopped by the establishments making small talk.
This was the life on Little Corn and I hope to make it back again in the near future but I have learned a few things if I should go back…. travel extra light, bring good walking shoes because you will be walking where ever you go, bring the bug spray (although the bugs were not bad at all while I was there) and make sure to bring your appetite for some wonderful seafood, rice, fruit and black beans.

In the months ahead I could not get Little Corn off of my mind after returning home to Florida. So I am now crossing the country of Guatemala. On the road for almost a month now, I say “yes” it is safe. However, I am always cautious with my belongings as in any country.

After arriving in Guatemala City, my first destination was Antigua, just 45 minutes away. Spending my first afternoon getting accustomed to new surroundings was a great experience. Cobblestone streets, horse drawn buggy’s and a mixture of travelers from all over the world coexisting in harmony.

The first night walking the streets after dark, sent me into an unusual paranoid state. The glow from the low watt street lamps gave me a feeling of foreboding as well as the local men gathered in doorways of bars and on street corners. I took an early dinner and returned to my hotel and comfort zone.

Over the next few days I began to relax and enjoy the smell of fresh baked bread, shoe polish from the shoeshine boys and even the horse hung.

The women I interviewed here also had no fear of being in Guatemala alone and most felt confident and safe. Surprisingly there are many women traveling solo throughout Guatemala. Some have settled in Guatemala for extended stays and the majority have visited several countries and have an extended itinerary or have found a community they felt comfortable in and put down roots.

How are they financially able to stay? The cost of living in Central America is very affordable, much more than the states. Many women have homes which they rent to long term tenants. This can easily be enough to travel comfortable for quite a while. One female backpacker had been traveling 4 years from the income of her rental home in Sydney, Australia. Her average cost per year, for her travels, was $25,000. Others have internet businesses or work locally as yoga instructors and, of course, teachers.


Teachers in Guatemala Protest in the Streets

Thousands of teachers protested on the streets of Guatemala on Thursday, January 23 demanding more funds for education. Major roads were blocked by protestors throughout Guatemala as teachers burned old tires and nail riddled boards. Traffic was haunted and vehicles were not allowed to pass. The leader of STEG, one of the teaching unions calling the protest, said, “We don’t want there to be schools without programs or students without food.”
The teachers believe 35% of the budget should be spent on education – at this time the figure is 16%. As well as demanding a pay increase, the teachers are also calling for money for school supplies and school meals.

The minimum wage in Guatemala is the equivalent of approximately $500 per month. Teachers in Guatemala earn $440 a month on average, although many are on temporary contracts and earn only half that amount.

A Colorful Look at Antigua, Guatemala

Arriving into Guatemala City, I was met by my private car and a friend of a friend who is going to store my scuba diving gear for a few weeks. A 45 minute ride takes me to the Colonial City of Antigua, Guatemala. My first stop and a wonderful surprise where I will spend the next 9 days. A beautiful, but crumbling, city bustling with all walks of life. in the center of town is the Central Plaza where local men, women and children congregate selling, very aggressively, their wares until late. The colorful scarves, wristbands and jewelry can be acquired for just a few Quetzals but you must work at getting the best price. Considered a backpackers dream destination.
The cobblestone streets make walking a treacherous endeavor but well worth it. If your not up to walking there are many modes of travel. The tuktuks are a cheap ride but bumpy or the slow horse drawn buggy can be found around the busy central park.
Although I stayed at several hostels, the Holistico Hostal

 is my favorite so far. A wonderful place, not only to lay your head, but to meet and enjoy new friends and trade travel stories. The accommodations are clean and well taken care by the hard working, respectful employees. A wide variety of breakfast options are is served daily in just a matter of minutes and the relaxing atmosphere is a welcoming change to the fast pace of Antigua. Come and enjoy. Sergio Martinez, the owner, is the host with the most! Make early plans to stay additional nights because Hostal Holistico has a large following with many who return time and time again.

Although nights come alive with the sound of music drifting out of the pubs and restaurants the streets are somewhat dark and can be a little intimidating until you get used to it. Antigua is a party town for the young and old alike and bars stay open until late I to the night.
Off the beaten path, outside of Antigua, you will find the small city of Partanos where custom leather boots are made within days to your specifications. The prices will astound and is usually around $30 and up. Very well made with the exact heel height you want as well as the type of leather.
Only a few kilometers outside of Pastores is the Aquas Calientes, or hot springs where the incoming volcano waters can soothe and heal the body. Located at the base of volcanoes And hidden off of the highway, a short walk down a dirt road you will arrive at the entrance. At only Q10 or $1.25 to enter, it is a special treat and one will leave feeling refreshed.

Bloody Mary will Travel

Airports all over the world offer wonderful Bloody Mary’s in the bars and restaurants. It may be because many travelers need that pep to get relaxed before their next flight or maybe just because they’re the best made by the bartenders of the jet set. For what ever reason they are good, pack a punch and they are expensive. Don’t leave home without it!

Antigua, Guatemala…The Turning Back Of Time

Antigua is certainly not what I expected. A colonial city surrounded by numerous volcanoes with a unique culture. Although the city is in much need of restoration it is a popular destination by all walks of life. Young and old alike swarm to the busy Central Park where most everything is happening. Horse drawn buggy’s clatter on the cobble streets while men, women and children aggressively sell their items day and night. Colorful textiles such as scarves, wristbands and cloths can be acquired for just a few Guatemalan quetzals. Great bargains here for sure.

Central America is not for sissies!

My backpack sits on the counter ready to leave tomorrow for a 6 week trip throughout Guatemala and Honduras alone. My 22 year old twin boys are giving me hell. “Your gonna get killed”, “Your gonna get robbed”. Not just them but everyone I know think the boogie man is around every corner and only happy in their comfort zone. Adrenalin is a good thing, keeps us on our toes and makes life interesting.
I am a smart, middle age gal with a great love for travel and I WILL NOT let the boogie man scare me off! Everyone has the right to be able to enjoy a trip without looking over their shoulder all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I am always aware of what is happening around me. I don’t take unnecessary or stupid chances but I go to have fun and that is what I will do.
Not only is it a shame that Central America has such a high crime rate but it is also a shame that so many people miss such a great chance to see and experience other cultures. Travel cost are at a minimum, the weather is wonderful (all of this from what I have read) and there is so to learn.

Lighten up people and enjoy!

Girls Like Cars Too

Most people would not expect a woman to want to start a restoration project but that’s what I did. What was I thinking?

Several years ago my brother, Mike, called wondering if I would be interested in an old 1974 Corvette, 350, 4-speed, which needed a lot of work. Being the only daughter of a mechanic and sibling of two brothers in the same line of work, I was notorious for owning muscle cars since I was a kid. And I wanted to hear more. It would be six months before I would even see it in person.

This old car had been sitting outside in the Georgia weather for nine years. The body was in pretty good shape and the T-Tops didn’t leak but it did need a lot of work. But leave it to me to open a can of worms that would end up costing me enough money over five years for a good down payment on another house.

Mike offered to take care of all the mechanical work; the rest would be my problem. For $3500 you can acquire a first class nightmare. But I had a vision.

Mike had inherited my grandfather’s farm complete with an old slanting chicken house had been turned into a redneck garage complete with dirt floor and rusty corrugated tin roof; there isn’t much that couldn’t be done in there. Years and years of parts in bins and piled in corners, a hoist overhead hanging from one of the exposed wooden beams as well as all the guy tools imaginable.

After about a year and a half and much badgering, it was running pretty good. Of course most everything had to be replaced. The motor had been replaced previously. A new transmission, still in the box, had been included in the mix and it was ready for the drive to Central Florida where it would now call home.

Being a treasure diver didn’t offer me much time at home but every three weeks or so I would be home tinkering, working toward my goal. I had found a supplier of Corvette parts who, I’m sure wished he had never answered my original call.

First I ripped out the tattered carpet, removed the seats and spent months loosing old bolts, vacuuming cobwebs, spray painting and oiling movable parts of the seats. When I turned it over to the body guy I thought the less problems he had the less it would cost me.

The dash was nothing short of a horror story. Wiring had been spliced together with duck tape and most of the gauges and dash lights were not working. I ran new wiring, replaced bulbs and gauges and pretty much else I could figure out on my own using the assembly manual I had picked up on E-Bay.

Although my body man, Eddie, wanted nothing to do with it. After six months or so I caught him at a time when business was slow and he relented but made it clear it would be a side job and if I was in a hurry I might as well take it somewhere else. But I knew he was the best in the area and I wanted him so I agreed.

Two years later it was ready for the interior to be completed. By this time nothing surprised me. The paint job had been done by a paint rep flown out from Texas, which had talked Eddie into trying a new brand of paint, later this had to be stripped off. Back down to the fiberglass after it bubbled up over ever inch of the car.

Months and months of using great, ok, and bad mechanics took its toll on my pocketbook and me but my vision had come to pass. She turns heads wherever I go. Guy’s stop me at traffic lights wanting to know “What year?”. I have had kids ask me if I am a racecar driver and my neighbors look at me like I am nuts. But I love my car!