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Hurricanes, Volcanoes and a Happy Wallet

Written on: Friday June 20th, 2008

A journal entry from: Luke in Central America

I seem to be perpetually one country behind my current location. Unfortunately as I only have 2 and a half weeks left here it doesn't look like there's much chance of catching up with myself. Never mind. The border crossing into Nicaragua felt like one of the biggest swindles of my trip so far. Having caught 3 different buses to get from Lago de Yajoa, I arrived at the border of Guasaule hot and sweaty at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I was apparently the only person crossing and as such was bombarded instantaneously by about 15 fast-talking Hondurans on huge rickshaws all offerring to cycle me across the border as it was "6 kilometers" to the town on the other side. I was too tired to argue and so, after making the fatal error of hopping on before agreeing a price, we cycled off for 100m to the immigration desk. We were promptly joined by a very insistent money-changer who jumped onto the side of the bike and spent almost 15 minutes pleading with me to change more money (they were giving me a terrible rate so I decided I'd only change enough to get to León). All the way through my border fees being paid (was charged way too much) and well into Nicaragua he continued to repeat "Por favor!" over and over again. Finally after paying an extortionate amount to my cyclist I found myself safely in Nicargua, although with lighter pockets and considerably more exhaustion than I'd planned on.

Thankfully Nicaragua turned out to very quickly make amends in terms of my wallet. The 4 hour bus to León was, thankfully, up and running again after the national transport strike which had been the source of a lot of backpacker worries over the past few weeks and, what's more, it only cost 50p. In fact, Nicaragua was by far the cheapest country yet with my all of accommodation, travel, food and activities generally coming to no more than £10 a day.

My first destination was the colonial city of León. Unfortunately I managed to arrive just in time for tropical storm Alma to hit the coast just south of the city and so, with the power cut and everyone expecting it to turn into a hurricane, I spent a rather quite day or two sat in the hostel watching the rain. In the city itself the storm was little more than a lot of rain and wind but on my drive to the capital the next morning I saw it had done some serious damage to the surrounding countryside. Trees and telephone poles had been almost unanimously toppled for miles around and even some metal road signs had come crashing down to the ground or wrapped themselves around fences or barns.

I decided the proper antidote for all this rain was a trip to the beach and so after a very brief stop in Managua (the dirty and extremely dangerous capital) I headed down to San Juan del Sur. This is one of the Nicaragua's major beach resorts and almost entirely focused on surfing. I am a terrible surfer and so decided I'd spend my time here chilling on the beach and swimming etc. Unfortunately this wasn't to be. San Juan had also been hit by Alma and as such the main beach in town was completely coated in driftwood. The huge waves, so perfect for surfing, made swimming a rather unappealling option. Instead I spent a slightly fustrated few days chatting a little to surfers (who seem to have little to talk about besides surfing) and watching films at the hostel.

Looking back now I think I was still slightly in mourning for Utila. I had had such a great time on the island and gotten so used to being settled in one place that I kind of resented being on the move again. This was compounded by my lack of activity and so lead me to continue my slightly irritable mood all the way to Granada. This is Nicaragua's main tourist attraction with the pretty colonial streets being the perfect place for tourists to blow their cash on tours and souvenirs (although admitedly at much lower prices than elsewhere in Central America). Once I'd settled in to the hostel and had a wonder around town I realized that there wasn't an awful lot to do besides walking around town and so decided I'd take a trip out of town to Laguna de Apoyo, a huge lake inside an extinct volcano about half an hour from town.

I wasn't the only person taking the trip and later that evening I got chatting to the mixed bunch of scottish, english, belgian, american and dutch travellers who were coming with me. They turned out to be really nice and after an evening of drinks and salsa-watching (no one could be bothered to actually dance themselves) we all felt pretty positive about heading off to the lake in the morning. It turned out to be a really fun trip. The lake itself was beautiful and we spent all day splashing about on inner-tubes and kayaks. An evening of very intense drinking games later and we were a slightly decreased group of just me, 3 english boys, 1 belgian girl and one dutch girl (the others having headed off in various directions the night before and early that morning). They were all headed back down south to San Juan del Sur and then to the Isla de Ometepe. I was very keen to spend more time (i.e. less money) in Nicaragua and so decided I'd tag along with them.

San Juan was a lot more fun this time round. Having some slighlty more fun people to spend time with definitely makes a big difference. We also had the added intrigue of spotting a very drunken Matthew McConaughey (the actor from EDTV and The Wedding Planner etc.) slumped over a bar in town with a ring of tourists standing behind him, stealing his sunglasses and taking pictures as he was carried out of the bar by security. It's definitely true what they say about celebrity's being smaller, uglier and apparently drunker in real life.

After a nice few days here we left two of the boys to their spanish course and surfing classes and me, Igna and Marie-Claire (the two dutch speakers) and Alex (the other english guy) all headed off to Isla de Ometepe. This island in the middle of the enormous Lago de Nicaragua was formed by the eruptions of its two enormous volcanoes, one of which still pours the occasional bout of smoke and ash down on its jungled slopes. The island was really beautiful and our hostel, with very comfy hammocks and resident deer, was the perfect place for us all to unwind and spend hours debating where we were going next. Finally I made the decision to catch the overnight ferry from the other side of the island to the far shore of the lake and the river border crossing of San Carlos. I said my goodbyes to the others and to the deer and (after a long, sweaty run to the boat caused by poor timing on my part) I set off in the tiny ferry onto some very choppy waters.

Not fancying the freezingly air-conditioned cabin with it's very uncomfortable benches, I instead opted to spend a very pleasant night lying on deck and staring at the stars. In the morning we pulled into the grubby river port of San Carlos. I spent my one day there taking a boat up stream to see the rather more picturesque town of El Castillo (so named because of the oddly placed castle perched on the hill looking over the river, apparently built to keep out British pirates and a young Hiratio Nelson). In the morning I said my last farewells to Nicaragua and caught the boat along a beautiful stretch of crocodile, shark and monkey-infested river into Los Chiles, Costa Rica.


From Will on Jul 25th, 2008

Hey, really nice blog. Just finished reading up to this point. But when is the next entry coming? :)

From lukegavin7 on Feb 5th, 2009

dude i think we have the same name. I've always wondered if there was another one out there. anyway, yo trip sounds cool. i'd like to go to SA one day. later!

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