Nicaragua

2005-05-01

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I left Pittsburgh on Saturday 5 March 2005 and arrived in Managua in the afternoon. Lilia and Vera greeted me at the airport and showed me around town. The next morning we went down to Granada, an hour's drive away. The town is nice, with the exteriors of buildings suggesting pleasing interiors — which end up being even more beautiful than expected. A few hours of exploring was enough to see most of the attractions (a few churches, a view of Lake Cocibolca), and after lunch, the family headed back to Managua. I planned to take the bus down to Rivas, two hours south along the lake, but plans change. After finding the spot where the bus was supposed to leave, a conversation (of sorts) revealed that the bus was not leaving until manana (the locals took great care to make sure that I understood the situation — it's amazing how helpful they were, considering the communication difficulties). Not surprised, I decided that renting a car was the next best thing, but even in Central America, Budget Rent-A-Car won't rent to those under 25. Feeling pretty discouraged, and tired from walking across town, I found a room for $5 and crashed.

Monday morning proved more promising. A breakfast of fruit from a fruit stand (for a mere $0.50) followed by a successful trip to Rivas, showed that despite a few slow-downs, things were good. The cab driver charged $2.00 for a 10 minute ride, the same price as the two-hour bus ride. A ferry trip cost half that amount, taking me from San Jorge to Isla de Ometepe, located in the middle of Lake Cocibolca. With only two full days left available to me, renting a car seemed, again, to be a good option. This time, Central America prevailed, and from the Hotel Ometeptl in Moyogalpa I obtained a Suzuki for $60/day. The steep price was offset by two things. (1) To climb both of the volcanoes on the island — Concepcion and Maderas — managing time appropriately was crucial, and (2) upon seeing two travelers on the side of the road, and offering them rides, we struck a deal where I paid for the rental car, and Shelley and Ben paid for the hotel room. This Canadian-but-now-living-in-L.A. pair had a room at Hotel Istian along the Playa Santo Domingo, which fortunately sported space for YT. The road proved slow and bumpy, and the car that must have been older than me took it quite well. Third gear was only in my imagination, but the view of the pair of smoke stacks was immediate and spectacular. We arrived at the Hotel Istian, enjoyed beer and dinner, and eventually went to sleep.

Waking from a knock at 5 a.m., the three of us enjoyed a quick breakfast, and departed for Volcan Concepcion. The steep climb was quite nice, while the clouds covered it, providing glimpses of several howler monkeys, and a great many orchids. After climbing straight up for 5 hours, we arrived at the peak — and crater — of the volcano. Looking down into it revealed several steam vents, and some exciting-looking colors. Reds, browns, yellows, and the ground was too hot to sit on, because the escaping heat was too great. Taking a guide is required, and ours cost $10/person, but he was nonetheless a useful companion, showing us flowers and wildlife and testing our Spanish abilities. The view looking out from the top was enjoyed by all — including some people we encountered from France, the Netherlands, and England — as we could see a great distance. Mombacho was visible to the NW, and I later realized that the Pacific Ocean was probably chilling along the western horizon. A downhill descent of four hours led to weary legs, but the good companionship of everyone back at the hotel — along with a Nicaraguan cigar, thanks to Jim — revitalized our spirits, and a quick swim in the lake capped off a fine day.

It was Wednesday, and having only until Friday in the country, I had no choice but to climb Maderas. Three others at the hotel were also interested, so we formed a group and left early. Evert, from Holland, and Dave and Judy, from Ketchikan Alaska, and I drove to the Finca Magdalena, a large organic coffee farm, had a delicious breakfast, and hired a guide for the mountain. This climb was entirely in the trees, which helped me from getting even more sunburned, and we saw both howler monkeys and white-face monkeys. After three hours up to the cone, we descended down to the lake inside it. While there were no great views, the fog on the lake produced a strange — and wonderful — effect, as it billowed across the water to cover everything. One of the guides had a dog, which made us look like hiking weaklings, but the lower half of the descent was runnable, and this alleviated my jealousy towards the canine follower. Again, the guides were keeping track of us but letting us hike our own pace. Later, after a beer and an orange juice and a quick 1.5 hour drive around the island, the car was returned ($30 late fee), dinner was eaten ($5), and I was asleep ($3).

The early morning was a good time to leave that great island, so I took the ferry ($1) and later the bus ($1) up to Managua. A 70-year old guy from Honduras (and also Nicaragua and Costa Rica) was nice enough to practice his English on me while helping me with my Spanish. I Arrived in Managua, and a taxi took me back to the Wood family's house. Following a good lunch, Vera and I went to the Mercado Huembres, where we shopped for a chair, curtains, and whatever we saw. While we purchased very little, it was great to see a place where the small businesses provide such a neat market area. Friday morning was a good time to read, and I departed from Managua just after noon.

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