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And now for something completely different

Our last weeks in Nicaragua, by Norm

sunny 32 °C

Years ago, Shona converted my appreciation of Monty Python to the wider inclusion of Michael Palin's travelogues. His journeys off the usual tourist trail were one of the inspirations behind our own adventure. Thus, I can't go too long without some Python references... Apologies to any non-Monty Python fans who read this post. Stop us if we're all getting too silly!

So far our trip has included varied destinations: beautiful multi-coloured colonial cities, mystic ancient Mayan ruins, sun and sand filled beaches, and deep jungle or rainforests teeming with natural flora, fauna and geological wonders. Our last two stops in Nicaragua were week-long sojourns at a finca (farm) on the intriguing Isla Ometepe in Lago Nicaragua, and at a beach house in Pochomil, a quaint fishing village attempting to embrace Nica's up-and-coming surf culture on the Pacific coast.

We set off from Costa Rica to Nicaragua with our new temporary travel family, Peggy and Dave, who would visit with us on Ometepe for a few days. This was the final land-border crossing of our trip for Shona and the kids and once we had struggled through immigration with our limited Spanish we quietly congratulated ourselves that we had managed as well as we had.

Ometepe is one of the largest freshwater islands in the world. As the ferry pulled away from the mainland the imposing view of the island's two volcanoes increased the sense of adventure. The good karma started right off the boat, as we met Jose Luis, a friendly young baseball-obsessed taxi driver who would become our island guide over the following week. We planned our day-trips with him around his baseball schedule. He was the pitcher for his team and they were on a winning streak. We often saw groups of kids playing baseball, rather than soccer, improvising with oranges or rocks due to the lack of actual baseballs.


The finca we rented for eight days on Ometepe was a large property with panoramic views of the beautiful lake and numerous fruit trees. We were located at the base of Volcán Concepción, an active volcano that last erupted in 2012. A fruit bowl full of oranges, limes, mangoes, carambola (starfruit) and tamarind from the property greeted us on arrival. A short walk revealed that there were also grapefruit, coconuts and avocado trees on the property. The fertile growing conditions in the volcanic soils and the high cost of importing pesticides to Ometepe, allow for almost all the delicious local produce to be organic. It was difficult to find many things that were not produced on the island, the best cheese shop was certainly uncontaminated by cheese. The caretakers of the property sourced us some lake fish which combined with the finca fruit was the start of a feast. Once again, the Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum with limes from the tree outside made fabulous mojitos.


Being on a farm did have its drawbacks. Several roosters could not tell the time, crowing at all hours of the day and night. We think one hen was also confused, as it continually growled like a howler monkey. Then there were the flocks of parakeets with beautiful plumage that liked to loudly squawk outside the window at daybreak, they were not Norwegian Blue parrots and had definitely not expired.

Our day trips around the island always included marvelling at the views of the volcanoes. Volcán Concepción is one of the best examples of a classic conical volcano shape. The top is almost always covered in a cloud dome as the emissions from the cone generate moisture that rolls down the steep slopes. None of us were willing to hike the volcano which requires a 4 am start and over 6 hours of ascension without much chance of unrestricted views inside a cloud. But we were lucky enough to view the bare peak with its ominous crater a couple times late in the afternoon when the heat burned off any humidity.


During our stay on the island we enjoyed visits to Charco Verde Nature Reserve and Lagoon, (risking meeting Chico Largo - a devil that turns people into cows - there were an inordinate number of cattle roaming the island); San Ramón waterfall on Volcán Maderas, (where Jose Luis earned a big tip by piggy-backing Fraser all the way down the volcano trail); 3000 year old petroglyphs; bike rides; and swimming spots where we thoroughly enjoyed the salt-free water after weeks in the ocean.


Isla Ometepe seems lost-in-time as the world speeds ahead. Change may be coming though, in the form of a massive new Chinese-financed canal across the country and Lago Nicaragua. The proposed project is already underway (although final studies, plans and approvals are incomplete!) to build a wider and deeper passage than the Panama Canal to accommodate supertankers. For those interested in further details of this controversial project, check out this article from the Guardian.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (behind Haiti) and the hopes are high that this project will lead to improvements in the standard of living. But most people we spoke with definitely seemed nervous. These ships will endanger flora and fauna reserves as well as jeopardize the tranquility of everyday life on Ometepe. Currently the main sources of income on the island are tourism and fishing, still done in small dug-out canoes and 2 person dinghies. While we hope for economic prosperity for the people of Isla Ometepe, the impact of the canal may have far reaching consequences that may negatively and permanently change the region. We are extremely glad to have seen the area before large ships rule the lake and hope that the friendly people we met will be able to adapt with few negative results.

From Ometepe, we headed up to Managua to pick up our rental car for the week. We fumbled our way through the chaotic un-signed streets of the capital and travelled to Pochomil, on the Pacific. We were searching for some pure relaxation as our trip begins to wind down. The break from active travel came at the right time as two of the kids began to feel under the weather. Fraser cried out that he was not dead yet, while Mirren insisted it was only a flesh wound. We used the week to recover on the beach and in the pool, and to just enjoy some pampering. One of the locals, a renown cook, came to our Casa twice to prepare some outstanding Nica tipico dinners for us: Pescado a la Pochomil and Ceviche. Upon finishing, we could eat no more, not even a teeny wafer thin mint!


After almost 4 months of travelling and hearing multiple horror-stories about corrupt law enforcement officers, we were finally stopped by police for some nonsensical check. Unable to kick the ghastly habit, I am the only person in this country who signals a turn, yet still I got pulled over. In my pigeon Spanish, I managed to fumble my way through his interrogation. Ha! I had the required warning triangle in the vehicle (to my dismay, they did not care that I had a jack or tire irons), so no bribe was needed and they let me go. But remember... Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Posted by Salsa Sojourns 15:05 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (3)

Aargh Pirates!

Río San Juan, by Fraser

semi-overcast 26 °C

We went on a boat to get to El Castillo. It took us 3 hours. El Castillo is a town in the middle of the jungle on Río San Juan in Nicaragua. We wanted to see the fort that was built there to stop pirates from getting to Granada. The fort was at the top of the hill where there are rapids in the river that the pirates would have to climb and that would slow down the pirates enough that the soldiers could shoot at them. We visited the fort and could see down the river in case pirates came. There were lots of cannons and gun holes. Because the soldiers were shooting out of small holes it was harder for attackers to shoot the soldiers inside. We got to run around and play 'soldier and pirate' since nobody else was there. I got to be a pirate!


The next day we took another boat to go on a rainforest hike in the Indio Maiz Reserve. They gave us shiny black welly boots to wear. The trail was muddy and I got stuck a bunch of times. We had to use walking sticks. Our guide showed us a jaguar print in the mud that was a few days old. I got my picture taken in front of the coolest tree; it could walk (move) sideways over a period of 5-10 years. It would grow new spiky roots to one side to slowly, slowly pull the tree that way. There are 12 families left that still live in the rainforest that don't talk to or see anyone else. They never go to the doctor or the dentist or the hospital and instead they use the jungle plants to make them better when they get sick. We saw a poisonous snake. Ailsa was scared of it, but it was only a baby. By the end of the hike everyone was muddy, not just me! Our boots were so muddy we had to wash them in the river before we gave them back. We took another boat back to the hotel and saw white-faced monkeys on the way.

Tomorrow we have to take two more boat rides on our way to the border for Costa Rica. Urgh. I am sick and tired if these boat rides! Bye.


Posted by Salsa Sojourns 07:33 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Some like it hot!

Granada, by Norm

sunny 40 °C

As we sweated through our earlier travels in Guatemala and Honduras, locals repeatedly told us that Granada, Nicaragua was HOT. Escaping the Canadian winter, everywhere seemed relatively hot to us so we shrugged off the comments but weren't really ready for the extreme heat we met when we reached Granada.

Granada is a beautiful colonial city at the north end of Lago Nicaragua. We saw some of its most picturesque sites as we took a horse drawn carriage ride one morning with a guide that pointed out every hotel, finished each sentence with "this is Granada" and repeated the founding date of the city for any important date in history: 1524 for anyone interested. Apparently, the cathedral was built and burned down three times over in 1524. Captain Henry Morgan of pirate (and rum!) fame sacked the city in 1524. American William Walker and his mercenaries took control of Granada and the country and declared himself president in 1524. We may need to double check the accuracy of the carriage driver's claims. Maybe the heat was getting to him.


The casa we rented for the week had a beautiful balcony view out to the Mombacho Volcano and the cathedral on Central Park. We strolled the city streets each morning before the heat forced us inside by 10am to relax in the shade or in the saltwater pool. After a couple of weeks on the move and in transit, including a two day bus journey to reach Granada, the respite was welcomed.


As I cycled alone along the lakeshore one morning my backpack was snatched by two motorbike bandits. The bag held an iPad and our beloved point-and-shoot Canon camera so the photos on the blog for the next few weeks will be from the goPro and the spare iPad. It was quite disappointing but not wholly unexpected given the poverty we witnessed here. And although I am a firm supporter of some global wealth re-distribution I really prefer to do it on my own terms!

In a not completely unrelated turn of events, we sampled the local Flor de Caña rum, frequently regarded by experts as the best rum in the world. And, for the first time since our travels began, we discovered that fresh mint was easily available (8 cents Canadian for a bunch!). That could not have come at a better time! Maybe it was the heat or the poolside setting, but those mojitos were the best we have ever had! Cheers!


Posted by Salsa Sojourns 05:49 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (2)

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