Some people spend copious amounts of time planning their vacations. From things to see, places to eat and activities to do, making a plan for what to do in a foreign country seems like a fairly standard and normal activity. For better or worse I am not one of these people. In fact I’ve been living in Panama for the last 6 months of my life entirely based upon the idea that the country looked cool on a map! Now, Panama only allows foreigners 6 months stay in their country. After that you must exit the country for at least 3 full days (72 hours) before you return. Some people find this a hassle, but I think it’s awesome! It’s basically like a mandatory international vacation! Can you imagine if your boss in the US forced you to leave the country every 6 months, how cool would that be!? To maximize my “mandatory vacation” I selected a long weekend and asked for two days off of work to renew my visa. I had no real plan for the time off, I was just going to take a bus north to Costa Rica and chill on a beach somewhere. The day before I was about to leave a familiar feeling passed over me and I had an impulsive itch to check out a completely new country. I researched flights to Honduras and Nicaragua which were both reasonable and the same price. As I knew absolutely nothing about either country I asked a couple friends which they would choose, but getting conflicting advice I left it up to a coin-flip.
Chillin by myself on the plane to Nicaragua with a curious smile on my face I realized that I had absolutely no plan what-so-ever for when I landed. Not only did I not know how to correctly pronounce the capital city in which I would be landing shortly, but I was also advised to avoid it because it is very dangerous. Also, not knowing the name of a single other city, tourist attraction or hotel in the whole country I had no idea what I was going to tell a taxi or bus that crossed my path on that random Thursday. Thoughts were racing through my head like “Could I really just say ‘take me somewhere cool’ to a cab driver?” Luckily it didn’t come down to that as good fortune was on my side. A pretty Nicaraguan girl was placed next to me on the flight so I practiced in my head a couple of times what I would say to her in Spanish then struck up a conversation. Although I was secretly hoping that she was a Nicaraguan princess fond of blue-eyed gringos and would invite me to her castle atop a volcano for the weekend, when she told me of a cool city by a lake called Granada I was happy all the same. After short taxi ride to a ghetto bus station in Managua I found myself the lone gringo on an unbelievably hot bus on the way to a city I’d never heard of in my life. Some friendly young, hungover Nicaraguans started chatting me up on the bus in English, telling me they were from Granada, knew the cheapest places to stay and could take me out for the night. Amazed by the kindness of these people and at my random good fortune I was given a sweet tour of the city, friends and some pretty girls to chat with over beers for the evening. Even if I had all the time in the world to plan this Nicaraguan vacation I don’t think it could have turned out as well as it played out!
There is a lot to be said about this method of travel or this method of living for that matter. Of course you can’t always just leave life up to chance and fate, but how often in our busy lives do we allow for randomness. Seriously, how often do you well and truly have absolutely no idea what you are going to do, where you are going to go and who you are going to meet for a given day? Of course it can be difficult, scary and lonely at times, but there is also a raw, underlying feeling of awesomeness and adventure when you take just go with the flow and see what happens! As the late John Lennon put so eloquently, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” How true is this piece of advice? When you reflect back on the better experiences in life how often are they sporadic moments rather than planned ones? Now I’m not saying you have to take this outlook on life as far as I have, but just open yourself up to it every once in while. The best way to start is talking to random strangers. I know that since we were kids we were raised not to do this, but you never know what opportunities could present themselves from just a brief chat. Who knows, maybe that person will be your significant other one day or maybe they will invite you to a castle on top of a volcano in Nicaragua!!!
Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll