“This is just as bad as an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.” I blurt out to myself while hanging from my hammock chair.
We are sitting under a thatched-roof hut on the edge of Nicaragua’s Laguna de Apoyo, listening to the surprisingly loud waves crash while the sun goes down behind the edge of this extinct volcanic crater. The forested hillsides and warm, green waters are part of the Laguna de Apoyo Natural Reserve.
This afternoon we swam to the floating dock, soaked up the sun for thirty minutes lying on our backs, and then paddled the kayak out through the choppy waters. For our evening meal we opted to stay at our cozy little cliffside guesthouse where they will cook a delicious chicken dinner with roasted vegetables for about $8, deciding not to venture down the dirt road five minutes to some other restaurant.
“Not to make you guys paranoid,” started the Canadian-born hotelier.
“Don’t worry, we’re already paranoid,” I interrupt thinking back to our recent robbery at knife-point.
“Three of my guests were robbed here last week,” she continues. “It used to be safe, but unfortunately, recently I can’t say the same.”
Her suggestions encourage us to stay inside her walled backpacker sanctuary the following day as well.
Although we are a long way off from Cancun, many differences are only surface deep: Toñas have replaced Coronas, the fresh Laguna de Apoyo has replaced the salty blue-green Caribbean, modest independent guesthouse rooms have replaced luxury, international hotel chain high-rise rooms.
The problem is not spending a couple days of a long trip in a place like this, but if I only visit these places, hopping from one gated backpacker oasis to another, never really experiencing the country I have traveled so far to visit.
Then really, what was my point in traveling here?
So, back to the hammock and thatched-roof hut by the lakeside. Yes, this is relaxing, and yes I am enjoying myself, and yes it’s cool to swim in a green lagoon in an extinct volcanic crater surrounded by jungle-clad hillsides, and yes I must admit it’s pretty sweet to lie in a hammock all afternoon reading the New Yorker while the wind blows waves that crash onto the shoreline.
But…I’m really glad my trip hasn’t all been like this. The best experiences here have been the times we were visiting people: community members of a rural farming cooperative in Nicaragua and retired Americans living in Costa Rica.
Looking back on all the travels in my life—most were trips revolving around visiting friends in the beginning, end, or midway through a trip, some old friends and others whom I met on the road during a previous trip. And when I didn’t have a friend in a new country, I used couchsurfing to connect with someone living in that place. Point is: people living in a place, be they locals or foreigners, introduce you to life in that particular place as an insider.
While I can appreciate (especially after a few months of working) relaxing a few days in the sun near San Juan del Sur, spending evenings watching the sunset over the Pacific with a cold Victoria in my hand, this is not traveling. This could very easily be done in an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.
But then again, I’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, so how would I know what that’s like anyway.