Another long travel day today. We left the hotel at 8am, packed into mini buses and headed for the local airport for the short flight to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The plane was a 34 seat propeller one, on which we were virtually the only passengers. We had a while to wait for the flight as, for some reason, we arrived at the airport very early. Coming into Tegucigalpa, was a little on the wavy side, but, otherwise, the flight was uneventful.
We were met at the airport by Manuel, our driver, as we were on private transport once again today. There seems to have been a bit of pressure for us to use private rather than public transport recently, some of which we have had to pay extra for. In theory, it is meant to have been agreed by consensus but that hasn’t necessarily always been the case and it has resulted in some conflict amongst group members. The reason is to save time especially at border crossings so, generally speaking, it has not been an unreasonable request.
Before we set off, we were allowed 10 minutes to go and buy some ‘delectable’ fast food from Burger King as it was going to be a long trip. Yum….. The journey itself was not too bad although the first part was up and down and quite windy. The driver, whilst good, did not go slowly and there was a fair amount of weaving between pot holes all along the way today.
We passed the usual amount of rubbish strewn roadsides, poor housing, horse transportation mixed in with the Toyotas and Hondas, washing hung over fences and bushes, and hammocks swinging outside houses and stalls (usually with men in them and never women).
The trip to the border took about 3 1/2 hours and our tour leader took care of all the formalities on both sides, which made it very easy for us. She kept immigration sweet (literally) by sharing the sweets from the pinata with them. As usual, there were a large amount of trucks waiting to cross both ways and the usual range of food sellers and beggars.
Once in Nicaragua, it took another couple of hours to reach Leon. The countryside was fairly flat for quite a way (apart from the volcanos) and had much larger fields here than anywhere else we have been. We also saw irrigators being used for the crops, which implied farming was taken a bit more seriously. There were quite a lot more horse and carts here, some of which were laden with firewood. Firewood collection and washing must be a principal feature of daily life, as all the cooking appears to be undertaken on fires and I don’t think washing machines can have arrived in any of these countries yet as women are often to be seen scrubbing clothes in big stone sinks, some of which are communal.
The hotel in Leon is very new and we have an especially large room, unlike anybody else. However, all the rooms open onto a courtyard with a small swimming pool and none of them have windows so it could be very claustrophobic in a small room.
On arrival we were given an explanation of the tours available, (plentiful and reasonably priced) and then we went out for an orientation tour. After that, I continued on with the Canadians and one Australian, to find somewhere for dinner. Patience was a little short as everyone was tired and we ended up in an ‘interesting’ place, where everyone perked up with the aid of a beer or two. The service was extremely slow (think there might be a theme here) even though we were virtually the only ones in the restaurant, but very amenable. There was no common language though so ordering was guess work.
By this time, it was getting late but we decided to have coffee at the hotel, whilst dangling our feet in the pool to ease the itching of the sand fly bites obtained over the last few days.
We had breakfast in the hotel and then a group of us joined a city tour to learn a bit about the history of the city. Our guide for the morning was Wilbur, who seemed very knowledgeable, but had a very Sandinista bias to his talk.
We started at Subtiava, which is where the city originated and which collaborated for a while with the Spanish conquistadors. The indigenous people provided the labour for building Leon. However, there was the inevitable falling out and, whilst many local people were killed, there was still a great deal of resistance. This pattern appears to have continued to the modern day when the town, now a barrio of Leon rather than a town in its own right, had a strong reputation for fighting against the National guard with most people belonging to the Sandinistas, including our guide’s family members.
The whole day was spoiled for us, however, when a cyclist targeted one of the nicest and oldest members of our group, grabbing his camera off his wrist and sending him flying. The local people stood around and watched and shouted encouragement to the offenders. It was extremely disturbing for all of us and a real wake up call. The guide must have seen it happen and did nothing. We found out afterwards that it had also happened on a previous tour with the same guide and there is now suspicion that he was in collaboration with the thief. We were supposed to have had a police man with us when we visited Subtiava, after the previous incident occurred and because it is considered dangerous, but the guide had not arranged this. We had also been told that Nicaragua was very safe now and nobody was armed, unlike the rest of Central America. Obviously, we still have to be careful.
We continued on our tour in Leon itself, visiting the previous prison, where Sandinistas were tortured, and then the Cathedral. It was all quite a depressing morning.
Once we got back, I went for an Asian lunch with Marcel and Barbara and then sat on the swing chair by the pool for the rest of the afternoon, researching (in theory) where I am going to go next as I will not be allowed into Costa Rica in a few days’ time, if I have not got forward travel booked.
However, I didn’t get closer to making a decision but did have an extremely comfortable afternoon! Everyone went out to dinner at 6pm and I joined them later in the restaurant next door after spending some time on Skype. It was an enjoyable evening to round off the day.
I had a very lazy morning. My first mission after breakfast was to find an ipad charger, as the one I had bought to replace the one I had left in a hotel did not work. Mission accomplished 2 blocks from the hotel! My second mission was to go to the Post Office so that I could send a postcard. This was also accomplished very easily. The Post Office was an odd little place, very dark and messy, with a grumpy woman serving but she managed to sell me the 5 very large stamps that I was supposed to try and fit on the postcard, on which I had already written and upon which there was not a lot of space! After that, I had a stroll around the streets and through the market but it was very hot and my heart wasn’t really in it, so I went back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the morning.
I had lunch with the Canadians and then it was time for the afternoon adventure. We were divided into 2 vehicles and our guide, Carlos, drove us in a 4 wheel drive Toyota along and up a very rutted road (understatement of the year) up to Tileca volcano. The road was really used by the local farmers, who had ‘maintained’ it over the years and was only just being used for tourists to the volcano. This was quite an adventure in itself but our main objective was to walk up to the crater on a small track and along a bit further so that we could see the sunset behind all the other volcanos.
This part was very reminiscent of tramping round Mt Ruapehu, on the desert road side, in the Central North Island of N.Z. It wasn’t quite so windy though and the wind that there was, was actually quite warm!
There are a string of volcanos in this area, 9 of which are active. From where we were standing on Tileca, we had the most spectacular view of the surrounding area in all directions.
Once the sun had gone down, we walked back along the rocks to the crater to hang over the edge and look at the lava down below. (Only joking – I was lying on my stomach on the rocks and looking over – no such thing as health and safety here!) The noise of the gases was incredible, making sounds reminiscent of jet planes starting up and, of course, if you got a mouth full of sulphur fumes, it was fairly disgusting, although not as bad as some places I have been to in N.Z., I would have to say.
There was another group at the volcano, and we could hardly believe our eyes when we noticed them, as they were the same group of obnoxious Polish people we had encountered on the bus from Copan. They were a lot quieter today though and maybe there were a bit wary of us as one of our group had got so fed up with them on the bus that they had told them to ‘shut up’ (and this was our very polite older lady!)
We walked back down the volcano in the dark, using head torches, which was the most challenging part of the day. It was very dry and a lot of dust was being blown up and, because of that, it was also quite slippery. We made it though and our guides provided us with sandwiches when we arrived back at the vehicles.
After that, the drive back along the road in the dark, seemed a lot longer and maybe not quite so thrilling! I was falling asleep, whilst trying to listen to Carlos answer Gislane’s questions about the history of Nicaragua and the situation today. Carlos was very informative and not quite as biased as the guide we had yesterday so was a good source of information.
Once back at the hotel, we all decided we needed a drink, so whilst the men got beers, Becky and I bought coke (drinking variety, not the other) to go with the rum that we had been carrying with us. I may need to replenish that tomorrow! Luckily, we are almost the only ones in the hotel as I think we may have got a bit noisy.
We had breakfast and left at 9am this morning, headed for Granada. It was a relatively short trip in a private bus that allowed us to arrive in Granada by 12 noon, with one brief ‘comfort’ stop along the way.
We were immediately taken to the tour office to sort out any tours people wanted to do in the next couple of days and then we checked into the hotel. It seems that my room mate and I have struck lucky again with the room as ours is looking onto a patio that has a pool, (a little too small to be termed a swimming pool) and the room is quite light. Many of the other rooms are very dark and dingy.
Granada, on first impression, is very like a smaller version of Antigua with beautiful old houses, all painted bright colours. However, apparently looks can be deceptive, and we have all been warned to be wary of the street kids, who are begging and selling trinkets to support their glue sniffing and cocaine habits.
We went en masse to a cafe for lunch. This was in a big old house and had a lovely wide veranda round a patio area. It had excellent food and fruit smoothies as well. Some of the group then joined a city tour and another group of us had a wander around the main street and down to Lake Nicaragua, which is huge. The street was very wide and mostly pedestrianised and was full of cafes, with tables and chairs out on the pavement.
We arrived back at the hotel at about the same time as the others and, as we were all hot and sticky, decided that a beer round the pool seemed to be an excellent idea. Some of the men even went for a dip, but as the pool is so small, it was more a question of sitting in it, rather like a spa without the bubbles.
Dinner, again, was as a group and we walked along to the main street and had a large table outside. The street was now a lot more lively than it had been earlier and we were visited by many street sellers and children selling some strange flowers and things made out of, what looked like, dried reeds.
We also had a maracca selling man, who carved the patterns on the maracas as we were watching. It was very impressive, as he was just using an instrument like a scalpel and he produced patterns very quickly. Many of us are now the proud owners of some lovely maracas. I’m not sure that they are going to be allowed into NZ though as there appear to be seeds inside!
My meal was about the first disappointing one that I have had and Shirley and I ended up giving our leftovers to a street kid, who was hanging around. Apparently, it is OK to give them food but not money. Some of us then had a brief walk along the main street before heading back to the hotel and bed.
Today has been another excellent day. It was a free day and I had booked a 4 1/2 hour kayak trip around Isletas, which is a group of 365 islands that were created several thousand years ago when one of the volcanos erupted. After breakfast, Alan, Erin and I were picked up from the hotel and taken down to the lake where we transferred to our home built kayaks with our home built paddles, which was fine but probably not the most stable of vessels!
We had 2 guides with us, one of whom was in training and who kept having to lag behind with me because I was being so slow. The first part of the morning was fine, but after we had a break for a drink at a cafe, my kayak only wanted to go left, so I spent a great deal of effort and used many muscles in my left arm to keep it on track. This was particularly difficult in the open stretch of the lake where the wind had increased a bit since our start at 8.30am.
We paddled along little inlets, past both locals houses/huts and some very exclusive looking waterside homes, one of which belongs to the richest lady in Nicaragua. She apparently owns both a brewery and a rum business, as well as the hospital (covering all the options there!).
There were a number of birds to be seen enroute but the guides only spoke Spanish and Erin, our Spanish speaker, didn’t know the birds names in English. There were a lot of white herons though, amongst other things!
We stopped for about half an hour at a cafe and then went on to Monkey Island, which was just across the water from the cafe. This is apparently famous world wide (or maybe world famous in Nicaragua) as there are only 4 monkeys on it and all the tourist boats now come to see them. They used to be pets but their owners obviously must have got tired of them and they ended up here. Our guide fed them bananas and we oohed and aahed..!
We arrived back at the shore at about 12.30pm and were driven back to the hotel. None of the group were in evidence, so when Alan got bored with waiting for Shirley (his wife), we went off to find some lunch and ended up in the Irish Pub on the main street, which wasn’t the one we were looking for and wasn’t the one that everyone else was supposed to be in. However, we ordered lunch but it took so long that I didn’t have time to eat it as I had a massage appointment. Alan kindly got it in a takeaway box for me and I had lunch at 4.30pm.
Cherie had a massage at the same time, and afterwards, when we were feeling decidedly sleepy, we climbed the church tower that gave us a wonderful view over Granada. Whilst we were up there, a small boy, wearing large gloves, came to ring the bells, one in each hand, a job that he took very seriously. It was quite loud!
I went back to the hotel and had my belated lunch before going to find an internet cafe where I could print out my ticket to Bogota, as evidence for Costa Rican immigration that I didn’t intend to stay there. By the time I got back to the hotel, everyone else was heading out for dinner and as I wasn’t ready or hungry, I decided to forgo dinner for one night and sat on the patio drinking Flor de Canna rum and coke all by myself (which was most enjoyable!)
It was an interesting travel day today. It started with a walk to the bus station to catch one of the local buses to somewhere. (As I haven’t paid much attention to where we are going, I had no idea where we were getting off the bus – I just followed the leader, which bodes well for my future independent travel!). The walk proved a little challenging for those with the extra large suitcases, for which I, hypocritically, had little sympathy.
We arrived early for the bus, which left at 9.20am, as it gets very busy and we wanted to be sure of a seat. Once all our luggage was loaded and strapped onto the top, (the heavy suitcases being a challenge for the bus staff to load), we left bags and people on the bus to secure places whilst the rest of us had a wander around the market for half an hour. This was just starting to get busy and was full of fruit, vegetables (some unknown to the NZ/English eye) and just about every other thing imaginable, including viagra, which was offered to two of the older men I was walking with. The response was predictable!
It was quite amazing how the buses and trucks managed to squeeze through the small spaces left by the stallholders on either side of the road, the drivers just blasting away on their horns until the people move out of the way. There were also lots of food sellers that went onto the buses with an assortment of very cheap snacks.
The trip itself was about 1 1/2 hours and more like the chicken bus of my imagination than any other bus we have been on (although still no chickens). We were regaled with travel information from a loud American girl sitting behind us for the entire way, which was a little irritating to say the least and quite a relief when she got off. The scenery passed through sugar cane and banana plantations, lots of farmland and even rice paddies. It is obviously a very fertile area.
We arrived in a place called Rivas, and all of a sudden were told to get off the bus. It was our stop, but took us all by surprise. Obviously, no one else had bothered to find out where we were going either! Luggage was off loaded and then loaded onto another smaller bus which took us to the ferry bound for Omatepe Island. This was a busy little jetty, with another boat being loaded with bags of cement and various other activities going on.
We embarked and watched the people, as well as watching a cattle truck reversing onto the ferry after doing a 27 point turn to get into the correct position. I’m only glad I didn’t have to undertake that manoeuvre! There seemed to be a number of ferries coming and going to the island as we passed 2 or 3 boats during the 45 minute crossing.
The trip was very smooth and most of us sat at the top of the boat. I was standing next to the cabin and the driver had some very cheerful music on to which he was singing. I’m not sure how much attention he was paying to the driving though so it was a good job there was a large stretch of water with very little boat traffic.
We arrived on the island at about 1.30pm and were transferred to the hotel by mini van. Four of us were in one with the luggage, which had been carefully stacked in such a way that it was bound to fall on someone’s head, and the rest were in the air-conditioned van, air-conditioning still being a sore point among some members of the group.
By the time we arrived, we were all starving so first stop was the restaurant. As there seems to be very little here apart from the hotel, we are not going to have any option but to eat at the hotel so I am now resigned to an expensive couple of days. The fish soup was excellent though.
It is a very beautiful spot, right on the lake and, when I went swimming after lunch, the water was the warmest I have been in for a very long time. After the swim, I walked along the beach for quite some way before returning to the room for a shower before dinner. It seemed like a very short afternoon but the morning had been extra long and I think we included most forms of transport!
Today was supposed to be a relaxing day. It almost was but there was not too much (actually none) lying around on deck chairs in the sun.
After breakfast, the Canadians and I decided to go for a walk up the road to see some monkeys that were supposedly hanging around in the trees a little way away. I went prepared for a half hour walk, i.e. no hat, no sunglasses, no water, (not good in these temperatures) and ended up returning after lunch! There was a mineral water hot pool, Ojo de Agua, about 3km up the road, which apparently one or two members of the group were aware of and so that was where we headed. There was obviously a breakdown in communications, however, as the rest of us didn’t realise this until we got there.
It was a lovely walk up the road, passing ladies doing their washing in the stream, cows being herded, men wandering around with machetes and a family collecting wood.
Then it was along a dirt road through a banana plantation, past the armed guard and into the complex, which was beautiful and well worth the walk.
Only 1 of the 6 of us actually had bathing costumes/togs with us so the rest of us ended up swimming in underpants or underwear and t shirt (depending on your gender). This was probably not a pretty sight for the other visitors that were there (given that were all in the middle age range), especially the y-fronts, but we decided we didn’t really care. The water was a perfect temperature and the pool was surrounded by trees and had lounger chairs all around the edge. If we had come prepared, we would probably have spent longer. As it was, we had a swim, tried to dry off a little, and then walked back again.
Shirley and Sharon went marching “off to Moscow” as Alan phrased it, and the rest of us dawdled behind, catching them up at the vegetarian restaurant near the hotel where they had stopped for a beer. A couple of us stayed there for lunch (very good and much cheaper than the hotel) whilst the rest of them went back to the hotel.
Next on the agenda was a ride on the chicken bus to the next village, Alto Garcia, where there was supposedly a fishing port. We wandered around for quite some while, up and down side streets and asking directions for the lake and port. It was all to no avail, so I think the port is probably a figment of the imagination or the guide book, although someone did say that the fishing boats came in at midnight so maybe there was a jetty somewhere.
We had a drink in a hostel and then caught an even more decrepit chicken bus back to the hotel (still no chickens though!).
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, and we arrived back at about 4.30pm, in time for a swim in the lake before dinner. Tonight’s meal was early so that we could settle our bills before 8pm, before reception closed, as we were leaving at 4.45am tomorrow.