Splette's Travel Blog
  • Cities
  • September8th

    One of the beaches near Tamarindo. No people. Almost paradise.It was the day of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake when we returned from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. We would spend a few more days in Tamarindo, which is a small surfer town in Guanecaste (North West Costa Rica). Tamarindo is much closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than where we were at that time. So, it wasn’t a big surprise to see some damage in the holiday home of Gabo’s grandmother where we would be staying.

    A surfer at sunset at Tamarindo beach, Costa Rica

    A surfer at sunset

    After some cleaning up we headed out to the town in the old Toyota pickup truck of Gabo’s dad. Tamarindo is more expensive than it’s Nicaraguan counterpart San Juan del Sur. There are good hotels, shops, surf schools and many bars. The beach in the town is surprisingly nice (unlike San Juan or Puerto Viejo). And just a long walk or short drive away there are some really amazing beaches with almost no people. No comparison to the crowds of people you see in Europe at any half-way descent beach in summer…

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  • September4th

    A street in the colonial town of Granada, photographed from a church tower.

    A street in the colonial town of Granada.

    Ahhh Granada. If you are planning to visit Central America for its stunning architecture – think again. The sad true is that most of the architecture here is rather forgettable, not to say outright ugly. But there are exceptions. Granada, on the shores of lake Nicaragua is one of them. Built in 1524 by the evil Spanish conquistadores (just kidding José) it is reportedly the first European city in mainland America. The colonial style of the buildings has been well preserved throughout the city.
    We spent only one night here, so I’ll just leave you with the Wikipedia article on Granada and some photos.

    The street of our hostel in Granada, Nicaragua Hmm, yummy: some meat on a market in Granada. I'm so hungry now. Just for the tourists...
    One of the church towers are open to the public and offer a great view above the town. Took this pic from the tower of a church. Pretty church. There is no lack of those in Latin America.
  • September3rd


    Posted in: Cities

    My travel mates Ernesto and Gabriel

    Erno & Gabo

    Living in Costa Rica on a tourist visa means having to leave the country every 90 days. This time, I chose to spend a week in Nicaragua. And I wasn’t going by myself. Two Tico friends from San José had never been to Nicaragua, so we did this trip together.

    The Ticabus from San José ($38) was leaving at 3 am in the morning, so I didn’t get to sleep much. We were traveling ejecutivo (first class) which included breakfast. Or should I say ‘breakfast’? It turned out to be an apple pie from Burger King.

    Morning mist in Guanecaste, Costa Rica

    Morning mist in Guanecaste

    As the sun came up, the bus drove through Guanecaste, a part in North West Costa Rica that I hadn’t visited so far. For the first time I saw some wind mills in Central America. Funny, because I strongly associate those with Germany as you see those in many places there. Crossing the border to Nicaragua was hassle-free. They simply collected the passports of all bus passengers and stamped them collectively. Yeah, no annoying questions about proof of onward travel (I didn’t have a return ticket).

    A few hours later we arrived in Managua. Once more, I realized what a strange place this is. For various reasons, it doesn’t feel like a capital at all. We arrived at the bus station and checked in at a nearby hostel (‘San Felipe’) which was the nicest place for that price I have seen in Nicaragua, despite the fact that their WiFi ended about one meter before my bed. Well, this is the age of technology, even for travelers, and so our first trip into the city was to a mall to get a nicaragüense SIM card for our cell phones.

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  • April30th

    San Francisco Skyline as seen from Dolores park
    “You really must like the united States” said the immigration officer as he stared at his computer screen to review my data. I said ‘yes’, smiled and tried to look relaxed. And it’s true, for the past few years the United States are country I visited most frequently. I was on my way to San Francisco, which is the third time within a year that I am coming here. I’m not a particularly anxious person, but those US immigration officers always make me nervous. It’s because I had to go through additional questioning at immigration already twice in the past. And those interviews make you feel like an illegal immigrant trying to sneak across the border. My frequent visits and complex itineraries seem to raise suspicion. So, when this officer took what felt five minutes to review my data on his computer, I was nervous and concerned that I’ll get the special treatment for a third time. But eventually he let me go and I was relieved.
    A few hours later, I arrived in San Francisco where I had a busy week ahead of me, visiting friends and hanging out in cafés all day. I love spending extended periods of time in a café with my laptop. It’s one of the things that I miss the most in Costa Rica. There doesn’t seem to be much in of a coffee-culture there, which is surprising considering that Costa Rica is one of the main producers of coffee beans. There is not even Starbucks (although they seem to have every single other US fast food chain).

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  • November24th

    San Francisco Skyline

    My journey turns out to be a lot less linear than the straight line on the map may suggest. There is a lot of back and forth but that’s not a bad thing. By the time of writing I made it down to Colombia where my trip came to a stop as ran out of money.

    San Francisco Skyline

    San Francisco Skyline

    I decided to fly back to Costa Rica and spend a few months there to focus on work and make some money (I’ll explain this in more detail in another post). My Costa Rican roommate works for an airline and when he said he’d go to San Francisco I got jealous and begged him to get me one of those cheap tickets, so I could come as well. The rest is history; I am back in San Francisco for a few weeks. The swift change of environment makes me realize all the things I missed in Latin America – and those I didn’t. This must be my fifth visit here and I’m always happy to be back. As one of my friends said ‘Welcome back home.” The Bay area is certainly one of my favorite places in the United States.

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  • September16th


    Posted in: Cities

    Cloudy Panama City

    Oh wie schön ist Panama” is a popular German children’s book about little bear and little tiger who live in a house by the river. One day, a wonderful-smelling crate floats past them, with the word PANAMA written on it. Little bear and little tiger decide that Panama must be the land of their dreams, and set off on a quest to find it…  A touching story about learning to appreciate what you have.

    While bear and tiger never actually make it to Panama, this is already my third visit here, though a short one – just two days. From San José in Costa Rica I took the Ticabus to Panama. It was supposed to take 15 hours, which is quite comfortable when you travel first class. No comparison to the Greyhound buses in the United States. The border crossing, however, took over three hours because nobody seemed to feel responsible to stamp our passports or check our luggage. They could put up a sign saying “We are sorry, you can leave the country only during our opening hours.” After 16.5 hours the bus eventually arrived in Panama City. The climate here is quite hot in comparison to San José. I was proud to make my way to the hostel with public transportation, which is amazingly cheap. I had a window seat in the bus; the traffic can be crazy and when a taxi got so close that I thought it would hit the bus, I got scared and winced – much to the amusement of the Panamanian girl sitting next to me…

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  • September15th

    The active volcán Arenal is close to La Fortuna but too dangerous to climb

    Volcán Arenal, La Fortuna

    I’m on the 16-hour busride from San José to Panama City. After six weeks in San José, it feels quite strange to leave. I got pretty attached to this place and my stay here has been quite different. I wasn’t really travelling, I was living and working. It’s great that I got a taste of how living in Latin America feels like. My Spanish skills made microscopic improvements, though some of the words I learned (such as Polo or Pura Vida!) are Costa Rican slang and pretty much useless in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.

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  • July20th

    This is one of those stories that make traveling fun. After over three weeks in Guatemala it was time for me to move on to El Salvador. I booked a Pullmantur bus to the capital San Salvador. The bus trip turned out to be surprisingly comfortable with a free meal, soft drinks, snacks, the obligatory Richard Gere movie (‘Hachi: A dog’s tale‘) and free WiFi throughout the entire trip, yeah! You have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to email and blog throughout my bus ride. Hours pass like minutes. And this trip took an hour more than expected. Or did I enter a new time zone? Around 8:30 pm we arrived in zona rosa of San Salvador. Nope, that’s not the gay area. But it is the safest zone in the city. That’s relevant when you realize that El Salvador is currently the country with the highest murder rate in the entire world, 80 times higher than Germany! So, unlike some other bus stations I had seen during my travels there was nothing to worry about right here in front of the Sheraton Hotel in zona rosa. A bunch of taxi drivers were awaiting us. I asked how much? ‘Five Dollars’ (by the way US dollars are the official currency in El Salvador). I had no idea what a realistic taxi fare would be but figured that down the street prices might be lower than here in front of the Sheraton. I said no and started walking away. The taxi drivers though managed to change my mind. Only 5 steps of walking and the fare had dropped to $3. Fine. My driver spoke no English but who cares. First, I had to withdraw some cash. When changing my Guatemalian Quetzales to Dollars at the border I got ripped off by about $10. During the bus trip I had looked up nearby ATMs of Scotiabank online and the closest was still too far to walk, so the cab had to get me there. The driver asked if he should wait and I said yes, because this place looked deserted and I didn’t see any other taxis around. I withdrew a few hundred Dollars (they are, without question, the most useful currency in Central America) and got back into the car. The driver was talking on the phone with someone. I asked the guy to bring me to my LonelyPlanet-guided choice of accommodation for tonight. He didn’t know of any ‘Casa Huéspedes de Australia’ though, so I gave him the address. We drove for about 5 min; the area looked dark and industrial, not very much like the neighborhood with restaurants, parks, and a major shopping center around which the hostel was supposed to be located. How strange… Then the driver indicated that he is going to take a shortcut – at least that is what I understood from his Spanish-speaking and hand-waving – and turned into a small and pitchblack side street. Oh no, that couldn’t possibly be the shortest way to the hostel. I had studied the map and the hostel is very close to a big boulevard. That was the moment when I got a little nervous.
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  • June3rd

    Vegas, baby!

    Posted in: Cities, Video

    Gambling in Las Vegas

    Las Vegas gambling

    Las Vegas wasn’t exactly on my priory list of places to visit. But it was on the way from Grand Canyon to San Francisco, so I figured: why not? Hotels are surprisingly cheap (they make their money with the gambling). Many of the bigger hotels have a (more or less ridiculous; usually more) theme. The ‘Treasure Island‘ hotel for example has pirates as a theme and a big show with pirate ship, gunfire and all that crap every afternoon. Not knowing about any of this, I had booked a few nights in ‘Excalibur’ on priceline.com, simply based on price, number of stars and location. Excalibur turned out to be a giant colorful castle (think Disney), complete with countless slot-machines, wedding chapels (yes, one is not enough for all those shotgun weddings), food court (who would ever book a hotel that doesn’t have a McDonalds and a ChuckE.Cheese on the second floor) and for entertainment you can watch the performance of ‘Thunder from Downunder’ (the Ozzie version of Chippendales). Excalibur is located at the Southern end of ‘the strip’. Las Vegas is a surprising big city with university and all. However, the strip is where the tourists visit and all the action takes place: hotels, gambling, drinks, midget strip shows (no kidding) etc…
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  • May20th

    Texaco thunder storm - 5 min later I got wet

    Texas thunder storm

    …or so they say here. The Texans are very proud people. How painful must it have been for the proud Texan soul when Alaska joined the union in 1959 and claimed the title ‘biggest U.S. state’ from Texas.
    My Texas experience had some major surprises in store for me and I loved that. Initially, I had no intentions of going to Texas but when I changed my plans and decided to take a Southern route to go to California it was clear that I would be passing through. When I thought about Texas the first three (rather random) associations that came to mind were: the TV series ‘Dallas‘ that I watched a lot in my childhood, G.W. Bush and Big Oil. I did realize that probably a thing or two have changed in the ~30 years since ‘Dallas’ came out – and maybe that series was never an authentic depiction of Texas in the first place… But these were my random associations. Another one was that Texas is a very Christian state. When the Greyhound bus pulled into the parking lot upon my arrival in Houston in the middle of the night, the first thing I saw was a gigantic neonlight cross next to the bus station. I couldn’t see if it belonged to a church or hospital or something else. Thankfully I did not stay in Houston but transferred to a bus to San Antonio. San Antonio is in South Texas (some people claim it’s already Mexico). Although the city is very large it doesn’t feel like it at all when you walk around downtown. I was amazed how clean, pretty and walkable the city is. I arrived at 6 am in the morning and had a few hours to kill before meeting my couchsurfing host, Jake. He lived right in the city center in a former hotel that was converted into an apartment building. All the old hotel interior etc. were still there. This was the best couchsurfing experience in a while. Jake took me to a local brewery (some of the best beer I had in the U.S.), the riverwalk, the Alamo, Tower of the Americas and at the end of the day of course… margaritas (good, strong and too many)!

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