Author Archives: Steve Barnes


Please join us as we explore Cuba over the coming weeks during this time of dramatic change, both on the Island and back home in the US. Our internet will likely be spotty, but we will update both here and on our FaceBook page as connections allow.  Please join us! img_3143

Sailing Away!


First selfie from the top of the mast!

Cheers fellow travelers! It’s been a while since we updated, but we have a good excuse – last year, Vicki and I purchased a used 34′ Gemini catamaran sailboat and have been exploring the coast of Florida. During most of that time, we’ve anchored in relatively remote locations without access to internet, except via our phones. So, we’ve been a little lazy and posting primarily to our FaceBook page. After a year of cruising, we’ve finally pulled into Legacy Harbor Marina in Ft. Myers for a little break. We have great Internet access and a little time to catch up.

Vicki at the helm!

Vicki at the helm!

Over the next week or so, we will be posting some long-overdue stories about our stops along Florida’s coasts, including a summer spent in St. Augustine, our winter in the Keys and our hot and buggy time along the Gulf Coast of the Everglades. Owning a cruising boat is a lot of work and responsibility, so we haven’t made any long explorations of remote locales, but we’ve certainly had our share of adventures.


SV Second Draft, our new-to-us 1999 34′ Gemini Catamaran, which serves as our floating home and base for exploration.

Living aboard a sailing vessel and living the cruising lifestyle is something we have always dreamed of doing. With the kids grown and out of the house, we decided to take the plunge. We could have waited until we had more money, or more whatever, but we know that life is short and that we have to make the most of the time we are given. So, while we are still young and healthy enough for this strenuous lifestyle, we’ve decided to go for it! So far, it’s been amazing, even though we’ve spent the entire year cruising in our “backyard” here in Florida. Next year, we hope to explore the Bahamas and Cuba. We hope you will enjoy the upcoming posts and continue to share your stories with us! For a taste of where we’ve been so far, you can catch up on our FaceBook page here! Thanks for following SV Second Draft!

Walk the walk

By Vicki Barnes

imageThe best (and cheapest) way to discover a place is to walk. Talk to people…in your own way, be a reporter: ask questions – and really listen to the answers. You can find the free things, cheap eats, secret spots, art galleries, fishing holes, etc. that no one puts in the tour books.

Walking is your free gym. It is your path to cheap fun. You’ll see things you would miss in a car or other transport. You can duck into back alleys or sneak up a hidden stairway. You can see art in a back yard or critters in a puddle under a dock. Explore the world on foot. You’ll expand your horizons and it’s (mostly) free.

I love to travel, but…

Traveling is awesome, but sometimes you just want the comforts of home.

Traveling is awesome, but sometimes you just want the comforts of home – like a hot shower, sans wires.

I love to travel. Experiencing new cultures, new foods, new smells, new landscapes and especially new people makes me feel alive. And it doesn’t much matter if the place I am exploring is on another continent or in my own backyard: The volcanos and colonial cities of Nicaragua or the woods and springs of the Ocala National Forest. I’m immersed, lost, no longer shackled to the people, places and things that have become too familiar, too predictable.

But travel – and especially extended budget travel – isn’t as romantic as some writers would have us believe. There is discomfort, delay, frustration and sometimes danger. Tonight, as we prepare to wrap up two months of backpacking through Central America, I am ready to be home. Continue reading

Gringos in Paradise: High Wire

Coming to theaters this summer: Gringos in Paradise: High Wire

Volcano Boarding

This has been one of our most popular videos on the Facebook page. Watch Steve’s view (through the GoPro HeroCam) as he slides down the side of the Cerro Negro volcano outside Leon, Nicaragua.

Be sure to hydrate on the road

imageBy Vicki Barnes
I have long been an advocate of proper hydration. You know, drink water…lots of water…all day, every day.
So, imagine my  surprise when I looked back on a day last week and realized I was so dehydrated that I was actually suffering from heat exhaution.
We were traveling about 8 hours on the un-airconditioned bus to cross the border between Panama and Costa Rica.  All day, sitting on the bus with a brief stop to get passports stamped, walk a half a kilometer from one country to the other, get another stamp and reboard.
Over the course of the day, I drank about a liter and a half of water. I figured that should be sufficient.
I figured wrong. Continue reading

Accommodations Review – Lazy Bones: Leon, Nicaragua

imageBy Vicki Barnes
For the weary traveler, the name Lazy Bones alone is enough to draw you in, but the atmosphere in this hidden gem of a hostel in Leon, Nicaragua is laid back and energetic at the same time.
While Big Foot Hostel is famous on the internet for its electrified raves, its American-style pizza nights and high speed volcano boarding, Lazy Bones offers a more eclectic vibe that appeals to a more international crowd whose travel itinerary involves more than partying.
The hostel is run by a cooperative, a group of employees who share in the risks and the profits of the endeavor. They treat each other and the guests like family.
You might miss the door to this place if you weren’t sure of your destination two and a half blocks south of the Poets Park, across from the Mediterranean restaurant. A locked gate opens into a dark reception area, but beyond that is a courtyard with a beautifully-maintained tropical garden. On one wall, a surreal mural with bits of Nicaraguan history and lore in shades of red and gold. Across the way, a couple of tidy dorms.
Dorms are $8 and the private rooms with ensuite baths range from $20 to $30.
Beyond the garden are a few private rooms and family suites, a small dorm and another courtyard with a pool, a small Internet cafe and a kitchen where one can get a delicious breakfast.
The kitchen also serves as the staff’s community kitchen where staff and their families can prepare meals for themselves and their families with food they’ve each donated to the pantry. For a fee ($14), you can get a class in basic local cooking from one of the staff, including how to make tortillas from scratch. In the end you can eat your meal.
Staff members are using their talents and knowledge of the local area and history for a new tour (Maribios Tours) company as well. They are just getting started, so they haven’t gotten all the kinks out of the system, but they are doing a great job. There are shuttle drivers who get a little lost (not badly – and in a country with no street signs and roads maintained by residents – not surprisingly) and a lack of promotional items like T-shirts to make them more visible.
They are enthusiastic and encouraging and wonderfully kind. That goes a long way when exploring something new.
We did the volcano boarding ($30 including breakfast, a fresh fruit snack, water, transportation and everything you need to fling yourself down the ashy side of a volcano) with Claudia, a young woman who had grown up running up and down the “hills” (1000+ foot active and inactive volcanos) that surround Leon.
Standing at the base of Cerro Negro, an active volcano (it is presently just spewing small amounts of sulfuric gas, not lava), I briefly considered backing out of the whole deal. I am (a) pudgy, (b) of a certain age and (c) afraid of falling off volcanoes.image

“No, Mi’Lady”, she said, grabbing me by the hand. “I will hold your hand all the way up. It’s not hard. We’ll do this together.” All the way up, she encouraged me, always smiling. (By the way, sliding down a volcano is the most fun you can have on a narrow piece of plywood.)
Lazy Bones only takes 5 or 6 people in a group on their tours. Other tours take groups of 40 or 50. Because of this, they can offer personalized attention that makes all the difference.
While we missed having a communal kitchen where we could prepare our own meals at this hostel, the experience was a great one overall.

Reservations: email them at


Border crossings


By Vicki Barnes

We feel like we’ve crossed so many borders this trip (two in the last few days), it hardly seems a big deal any more. You get your stamps, you pay your fee, you walk out of one country into another, you get your stamps, you pay your fee, you walk into another country.

No biggie! Continue reading

Guest contributor: Stew’s views on what to do and see on the Río San Juan, Nicaragua

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Here’s a post from our friend Stewart about his travels on the Río San Juan just a week or so before we were there. Stew is a solo backpacker who has traveled to Central America and Asia with little more than a few pairs of shorts, a bathing suit and shoes. He has meditated with monks in mountain retreats for a week and bicycled from mountains to the shore. He knows how to experience the heart of a place.

I decided on full-bore pampering and went to Refugio Bartola. The food was excellent and every meal was included with lodging for $50 US a night, plus free canoes, free access to their private reserve bordering Indio Mais. Guide was $20 for a morning tour, awesome primary rainforest, saw howlers, caimans, paca, possum-like animals, a mountain cat called a “tida?,” and of course birds of all sorts, eg ospreys, egrets, great blue heron. Little tip: don’t let the Refugio staff or the tourist guides in El Castillo tell you you have to pay $25-30US per trip to get to the Refugio because the public boat to/from San Juan de Nicaragua goes right by it, 2 bucks or less.image

Another thing that fired up my imagination was the little historical tour of the El Castillo fort and its interpretive centre, I didn’t realize that the fort was such a key location for Caribbean pirates and the Spanish.

I would add that a good place to stay in El Castillo is Posada del Rio, it is all warm wood and accommodating staff situated right outside the second boat launch in El Castillo, right by Hotel Victoria. Their room for one with bathroom was like $15 a night while I was there. Also there was a caiman about the size of a pre-teen lurking under the bridge as we crossed over to this hotel on the first occasion, a great introduction.

I also stayed at Luna del Rio for the night, it was really nicely appointed but Pricey, $35.00 for a large-ish comfortable bed in a single room. Good for honeymooners but not for a backpacker on a budget. The owner was nice but she kept claiming (after I’d told her twice) that she knew nothing about the cheap public boat to the Refugio Bartola, which was going to be $30 US for a 30-minute trip if I did things her way. I think that the proximity to Costa Rica and its tourists may have upped the prices in this one little slice of Nicaragua, El Castillo definitely seemed more expensive to me.

Oh, and I did have a good experience with Mildred, the English-speaking travel guide in the tourist office overlooking the main dock at El Cast. She was unfailingly pleasant, helpful, and honest and the one who gave me info about the public boats. The nature canoe tour she set up was more a jaunt down a stream flowing between cattle fields, pleasant enough for seeing birds but clearly not out in the wilderness either.The guide had some grand-faluting name for the stream that I don’t remember, Rio somethin-or-other, I started referring to it as the Rio Vaca because of the close proximity to barnyard animals.