Smokey volcanoes, chicken buses, black beaches, gorgeous sunsets and engagements
04.09.2013 - 14.09.2013
We re-join our 3 comrades on the Nica Bus as they journey into Nicaragua…
The bus drops us off at the dusty sweltering road side and we wait in the shade of a tree. A collective soon appears and we hop in and travel the 40 minutes to the pacific coast town of San Juan del Sur. We arrive just after midday and walk along the sun soaked main street passed colourful shop fronts and surfboard repair shops to the plaza where a bright yellow church stands, and also our apartment. We have upgraded our accommodation as Tom is with us and when you are 3, an AirBnB apartment is a good deal! We enter the 2nd floor flat which has a balcony with sea views and a hammock. The roof terrace is sensational. We go out for a cheap lunch of fish, rice and tacos in the stuffy covered market before walking to the main supermarket on the edge of town for supplies. We later walk along the beach which is a huge curve of golden sand lined with a few restaurants and bars, and on a hill at the far end is a huge statue of Jesus. We return to the roof terrace and have mojitos as the sun sets – awesome 360 views over the town, the Pacific, and the verdant green hills behind us. Chicken stir fry dinner, and as C settles in to watch “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” on TV, E and T pop out for a couple of beers in a nearby bar, and make plans. The town is quiet.
In the morning we take care of T´s admin which involves calling the airline to change his return flight from San Jose in Costa Rica, to Managua in Nicaragua. All done and we cook lunch before making a walk to Jesus. We pass along the clean asphalt streets, by numerous taxi drivers wondering if we need a ride, and down onto the beach. We paddle in the surf and make it to the estuary half way where a mini suspension bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco takes us to the rest of the beach. Here we get lost and take directions to find the way up the hill to the statue. Along the beach are local fishermen pulling in nets that seem to be waist high in the water. About 60 pelicans are out in the bay and periodically take off and dive into the water to catch fish. The climb up is steep, passed exclusive homes. At the top, the view over the bay is stunning, and down the coast. We watch whales out in the ocean.
Sunset drinks back on the beach end a great day.
This morning we are going to travel by Chicken bus. This is one of the old US school buses and is on Tom´s “to do” list so he is very excited. It is a full bus, and Tom is soon squashed up against the window by a Mama to really add to his Chicken bus experience. He looks kind of happy. It is an hour to the town of Rivas, and we arrive into the Terminal in the busy market. Before we have stirred from our seat a tout is aboard wanting to give us a “cheap” taxi. It isn´t cheap of course. We get our bags and leave the scene to grab a few groceries in the market and C gets directions from the market sellers to where the collectivos depart. It is clearer how much poorer Nicaragua is than Costa Rica, with its poorer quality housing and levels of garbage on the streets. We find a cab for the right price and are soon at the quay side in San Jorge where we wait an hour for the next boat. It is a Chicken Boat! Tom is getting his fill today!
We board the slightly lop-sided vessel which takes us smoothly over to the island of Ometepe, which is made up of 2 volcanoes linked by flat land, alongside of which is a beach. The peaks are shrouded in mist as we land, and rather than the local bus, we get a good deal on a direct collectivo. We pass through banana plantations and give a lift to an elderly gentleman we shared the collectivo with from Rivas, and other folk going our way. 45 minutes later we reach our new AirBnB lodgings and are met by the American lady owner Lin. A gorgeous house on the beach. We take a swim in the tremendously warm lake with jaw-dropping views of two volcanic peaks. At 5pm, 3 horses arrive for a sunset beach ride, but Tom has stood on a thorn and decides not to go. So E and C head off, round the local football match on the beach. The sky is very dramatic with clouds and distant storms brewing. The pinks and oranges of the sunset begin to creep across the sky as we make our way passed locals bathing, egrets fishing and folks walking. It is here under the peak of the Volcano, that E dismounts and while C holds the reigns of the beast, he goes down on one knee and asks C to marry him! She is a little unnerved (E is equally nervous!) and she asks if he is serious at least twice, and after strong assurances that he is, she leaps off her horse, runs over and says YES! We charge back along the beach as the horses, with their heads towards home, canter close to a gallop to bring the grinning couple back to the house where we hug Tom and start celebrations! (Back in Costa Rica, in Santa Elena, E sneaked off to make a call to Holland and to C´s parents to seek permission to wed!)
The ample kitchen provides us with a good breakfast and then we take a walk to a nearby finca (farm) some 5km away in Balgue. The heat is heavy with humidity, and it is a relief to get off the road. We pass schools that are practicing drumming for the upcoming Independence Day. We walk on up a steeper track, beneath trees with howler monkeys in their branches. The finca is set amid beautiful gardens where butterflies and hummingbirds are busy feeding on nectar. We have lunch before walking back down to go for a swim in the lake. We go out on the horses again, with Tom this time, but his horse is not that in to it, and he decides to return. E and C continue on to the spot before a fast return, and C cooks up gazpacho for dinner!
We leave next morning on the 9am chicken bus to the port. A smooth crossing with the majestic peaks behind us, we land and take a collectivo back to the bus terminal in Rivas. We dodge the same taxi touts and find a spot on the next bus that will take us to Granada. Our bags go on top, and we hope that the rains hold off. The bar in the Terminal is busy with cab drivers. We wait in the bus for 40 mins before it leaves, and it fills with passengers and hawkers selling bags of brightly coloured juice and deep fried objects. It is 1.5 hours to Granada north along the lakeside. The chicken bus infront has the attendants climbing on the roof sorting out bikes and luggage as they zoom around corners. We reach the terminal in Granada, that is just a patch of land. We quickly depart for the main square as it feels as though eyes are on us. The main square is very touristy with horse drawn carriages lined up. We go to the Café Euro and are met by the AirBnB contact, a lady called Argentina. We walk the 15 minutes zig-zagging to the local neighbourhood where our apartment is located. It is a great spot with a very local feel and kids are out playing on the street . We get supplies from the supermarket and return and sit in our little courtyard to have dinner. Next day we look around the old colonial city and visit the old nunnery with its artifacts and stone carvings.
Our next destination is Masaya, a short ride away by bus. We have to wait in for Argentina to turn up to hand over the keys, and just then the bus goes by and we hop on, and then the torrential rains come down. Good timing. The bus drops us in the terminal in Masaya, which is a heavily polluted spot of land. Rubbish and dogs surround the parked vehicles. There is also the obligatory flabby bare-chested man resting on the bumper of a chicken bus. We have to get to a roundabout on the outskirts of town by the petrol station Uno for our pickup by Rafael for our last AirBnB apartment. We take a bus there. However it transpires that at this gaudy statued roundabout, the are two petrol stations (Hay dos Unos!) and we are waiting at the wrong one. E and C pop to the supermarket to pick up supplies while T waits with the bags. We get back and T says he has met Raphael who gave him an ear full for not being in the right place! Pfff! He picks us up and we throw our bags in the back of the pickup truck and drive the 5 mins along a new unopened road that hugs the hillside. We stop at a gate with a giant sun and drive up the hill to a gorgeous building where we are staying. Views over to the volcano and down over the land are excellent. We have a cool box for a fridge, and the water is more than a little temperamental, however there is a plunge pool. Rafael then drives us to the other gate and shows us fruit trees and we meet the caretaker family. He then drops us at the tourist market and we shop for some souvenirs before getting home for sunset. Then it is mojitos in the outdoor plunge pool before dinner.
Next day we hire a taxi for the day and first visit the volcano lake at Apoyo where we swim and have lunch before visiting the Masaya Volcanic park which has a rather active peak that is blowing sulphurous gas all over the place that gives you an instant throat ache. A very dramatic landscape.
It is Tom´s last day with us as he is off on an early flight to Washington DC before flying back to London. We have our last beers in the plunge pool before dinner and discuss the highlights of the holiday. It´s been so great travelling with him and experiencing some life changing moments together!
In the morning we pack up and walk down to the main road. It is humid and we are sweating as we board the bus to UCA (Universidad de Centro America) which is on the outskirts of Managua. Here we find the transfer to the town of León and an hour and a half later arrive in to the bus Terminal. We take a trike taxi and are peddled into town. Today is a holiday and the streets are full of pedestrians. So we jump out and walk the rest. There are many hostels here, and it has plenty of expats as well as students giving it a very relaxed vibe. We check out a couple of hostels and go for one called Lazybones as it has a small swimming pool. And it is glorious in this heat! This is our last place in Nicaragua as we will take a shuttle bus all the way to Guatemala and the town of Antigua. We visit the cathedral here and a museum of modern art which is excellent as it not only has some Picasso but also central American art. The plazas are pretty and there are many murals and signs and black and red flags for the ruling Sandanista party and for Daniel Ortega who is back in power again. We eat plenty of barbequed chicken here in the local eateries which are excellent. Our last day sees a parade hit the streets for El Dia de la Patria =some kind of Independence Day- and we watch the marching bands that have been practicing for so long walk along the sweltering streets lined with throngs of people. We get ourselves ready for our shuttle bus that departs at 2:30am and will take us 17 hours or so to get to Antigua, and our penultimate country of Guatemala.
San Juan del Sur
The view from our apartment
The beach is the main attraction
Cathedral, as seen from our rooftop
Our rooftop is the best for sunset
Local chicken bus
Walk to the Christ statue on the hill
It is definately worth it!
2nd night sunset on the beach
On our way to Isla Ometepe
The '8' shaped island is formed like this because of the 2 volcanoes
Sunset horseride on the black beach
The prince off the horse... and on his knee!
Celebration in the local bar
...followed by cuba libre's at home!
The next day we explore the island and walk to Balgue
Beautiful garden at Finca Magdalena
Horseriding again, this time Tom has no excuse
Chicken bus to the ferry
Adiós Isla Ometepe!
Our apartment in Granada
The colonial centre of Granada
Hmm,, Where are we??
And once again in the chicken bus
Our finca on the outskirts of Masaya
Tamarind in the garden
The smoking volcano in the distance
Cold water jaccuzi, incl. mojito's
Let's make some food
The rain hits the water, and E in it
We are getting used to these skies
The landscape around the very smokey volcano Masaya
The other crater
Pollo asado, or 'roasted chicken' for lunch in León
Leóns huge cathedral
Revolutionary propaganda everywhere
Dinner at a local cafe
September 14th - Fiestas de la Patria (day of the historic battle Nicaragua vs. USA)
big parade of schools in front of our hostel
Cooling down at the hostel pool