----------------------------------------------- Google Site Map ----------------------------------------------- Cindy in ...: March 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nicaragua: Catarina and Laguna de Apoyo

Caterina is a lovely little town that overlooks Laguna de Apoyo. I reached it on a public bus, the supposed 45 minute ride lasting nearly an hour and a half, as we stopped seemingly every few feet to pick up or drop off passengers. I guess, though, at 45 cents, I had no right to complain. The trip wasn't helped by the stretch of construction that dictated alternate one-way traffic, either.

I took one of those three-wheeled vehicles known in Thailand as a tuk-tuk from the point where the bus let me off to the overlook. It turned out to be a reasonable walking distance, but what I've learned is to ride out, and then walk back. That way I know what I am getting into.

The view was spectacular. I could see down into the entire crater, with Granada over by Lake Nicaragua. I even found the swim platform at Crater's Edge. When I was at the laguna, I could see the rim of the crater all around and had a great sense that I was inside a caldera. From above, it looked so much smaller, and so perfect that it seemed a bit like an artifact, an archaeological temple created by some ancient race and carefully excavated.

After lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the lake, I walked around town for a while. There are many nurseries in the area, raising plants for the local residents and for export as houseplants abroad. Many of the plants we use to decorate our houses or enhance our gardens, such as impatiens, are native to Central Amercia.

During my walk I passed two young women huddled on steps leading into a gardern, correcting each other's math homework. A mother had set up a table and chairs in her garden and was listening to her son read while he daughter worked on her arithmetic. Corn dried on the sidewalk outside a house and horses grazed in a field at the end of a street. The more I wandered the more I liked it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nicaragua: Laguna de Apoyo

One day I broke my routine of eat, read, walk, swim, visit with people, and went on a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo. Volcan de Apoyo's crater is filled with water, clean and warm. Warm because it still has, after all, lava underneath it.

The Oasis orgaizes the trip, with a daily minibus out to the Laguna. Passengers can take the bus only, pay for the facilities for a day at a small lodge called Crater's Edge, or stay overnight. I thought a day would be enough. It's another time that I probably should have gone for the longer trip.

After negotiating my way down some stairs, I found myself in a shelter stocked with rocking chairs, hammocks, and a bar offering ice cold Diet Cokes. I sat around for a while and talked and read, then tried the water. After lunch, I sort of half swam and half floated out to the swim platform. I wasn't really up to making a big effort out of anything.

I clambered up the ladder and spread myself to dry in the sun. The platform tilted enough in the small waves that occaisionally water washed up and wet my feet and legs. Perfect, just enough to cool me off.

Until I noticed what sounded like a large animal breathing right below me. Shades of Stephen King! A monster under the water!

Air was being trapped under the platform, and then escaping between the boards of the deck. Reallly, it sounded just like a monster. Seriously.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nicaragua: Granada, Friends From the Past

After searching around the wrong street, I finally found Nadine, a Canadian woman I knew from my first visit. I think I had her website or e-mail in my organizer that was stolen, but I'd never really gotten back in touch with here, or her with me. Her shop, Mavericks, is still there, although a lot else has changed in her life.

In addition to the shop, she has started a business helping people who are relocating to Nicaragua. It's called Details Management, and that's pretty much what she does. She'll help you register your children in school, or be your liaison with local contractors if you are building or remodeling. She rents properties, pays bills, and takes care of all those niggling details.

It was good to see that she is doing well, and is happy with her decision to come to Nicaragua. She's been there six years now. I've met a lot of people who last a year or two, then return to their home country. Not just in Nicaragua, but everywhere that expats go. It's one of the reasons I've hesitated about moving to one of the places I thought might be a nice place to settle.

So I drop by every day for a fruit smoothie. Sometimes she's there and we have a chance to catch up, sometimes she's not and I just exchange a book, or drink my smoothie and read, or chat with her kids for a bit.

It's that homecoming feeling again, seeing someone I know.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nicaragua: Granada Again, After Four Years

A one kilometer walk, a local bus, a ferry, a taxi, two hours on an inter-city local, another walk, and I was back in the Oasis Hostel in Granada again after four years. Not much has changed. The murals are the same, the dorm is the same, and I think I even got the same bed.

Granada seems to have changed some, though. I think there are a lot fewer street children, and the place has a more prosperous feel. Things are also more expensive. I didn't go into a couple of restaurants that I used to frequent regularly, largely because of the prices. Either they've gone up or I was willing to spend a lot more money back then. I think some of it is the latter.

Four years ago, it was May, the hottest month of the year. I had left the US on December 23, and had traveled around the Yucatan for a few weeks, then spent a couple of days in Belize (Placencia may be great, but not in the rain) before going on to Honduras and Nicaragua. I was, I remember, sick to death of Central American food, gallo pinto in particular.

Anyway, some things were the same. The horse drawn carriages, the old buildings, and the market. It's nice sometimes, when you are traveling, to arrive in a place you already know a bit about from personal experience. It's a mini homecoming, of sorts.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Nicaragua: The Bridge on the Green Lagoon

The Charco Verde Hotel, where I was staying, is on the edge of a biological reserve. My favorite walk there was the short one along the path in front of my room to a place called the Green Lagoon, in English. This is the charco verde, which can also be translated as the Green Puddle.

Benches by the water, herons parading by, the island blue jay, screeching above me, it made a perfect place to write in my journal, read a book, or just sit for a while.

A left turn when I reached the lagoon took me past the local compost center, a series of mounds covered in palm branches, with a sign explaining how to compost. At least, that's what I think it was. My Spanish really isn't up to the compost technique level.

Continuing on that path took me the whole way around the lagoon. Eventually I reached a spot that had stopped me cold when I tried the loop in the other direction.

The obstacle was a bridge over the creek that fed from the lagoon into the lake. It was not in good shape, and had been made by resting two rails on rocks at either end, then nailing half-sawed logs to the rails, round side up, with the bark still on. Not only was the first step too high for me to manage, there were no hand rails. The water underneath looked murky and green and of an indeterminate depth. I had turned back.

Now I looked at it from the other side. I managed to get up onto the bridge, but I really didn't like that rounded surface, and got back down. The fisherman who had left his spot and his net to help me looked puzzled. When I looked at the water, I realized why. Today it was crystal clear, and about an inch deep.

With a big grin, I waded across. He laughed and returned to his net. I continued on the looping path. Soon he caught up and passed me, raising his catch so I could admire it. "Por comer!" He had his dinner.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nicaragua: Charco Verde, Omotepe

Black sand beach, green lagoon, monkeys, and jungle trails. For ten days I stayed in Charrco Verde, getting in some beach time, taking some walks, reading, and playing on the internet.

Charco Verde is a small bay on the island of Omotepe, in the middle of Lake Managua. Hot black sand makes up the beaches. The island was created by two volcanos whose lava flows eventually met, and where they met the gradually eroding lava formed beaches.

When I arrived, I took the first room I found, thinking that the next morning I would look for something cheaper than $10 per night. So my first day included a stroll down the beach path.

The local laundry area was constructed from stone tables set out in the water, where clothes were being soaped, scrubbed, rinsed, and spread to dry. Women washing their hair and their children looked up as I ducked under a low-lying branch and stopped to take a picture of the volcano and the fields.

While my search for a room involved a very nice walk, it didn't net any bargains. In fact, the cheaper, backpacker oriented place wanted more for a room than I was paying. So I stayed where I was, lazing away the days.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nicaragua: The Laptop and the Bus

The conductor on the old school bus insisted on taking my day pack after he had stowed my big pack in the back. He literally grabbed it out of my arms. I told him, I think, that my computer was in it, and that I wanted it with me. No luck. So instead of enjoying the countryside and volcano views, I worried the whole way to the Charco Verde drop off. A couple of travelers from the Czech Republic who spoke good Spanish explained my concerns to him, shrugged, and told me he said it would be OK.

Since it was out of my sight and my control, my imagination went wild. I had visions of it being used as a seat for some portion of the trip or being casually casually tossed out by a passenger. The Czech couple obviously thought I was overly concerned. “It’s my first time traveling with it, and I’m still a bit protective.”

When I got off by the side of the road, there it was. The pack showed no signs of abuse, so my worries diminished a little. When I finally booted up and signed on to the Charco Verde Lodge’s wi-fi, my muscles relaxed and I realized I had been tensing them the whole time.

I have to get over this, or I’ll be a wreck within a year. No comments from the peanut gallery, please.

Traveling with a laptop has been fine for the most part. I love looking at my photos for as long as I want, looking up information on the internet, making blog posts, and playing the simple games I like, and staying on as long as I want without having to worry about the money. I don’t even mind the weight much. I don’t like the worry, though. Maybe I’ll adjust.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nicaragua: Omotepe - Altagracia

At midnight Friday, after ten hours on a very boring, and very cold and somewhat blustery ferry ride, I arrived on the island of Omotepe, and got on the last van to town. It pulled up in front of the hotel I had chosen, a man immediately appeared out of the dark, and a few minutes later I was in a room with a private bath. $8 per night, but I deserved it. I was to find I thought I deserved a lot while on Omotepe.

The ferry left at 2pm, and air-con was a nice thing to have. After the sun set, however, the cold air kept coming, and the cabin got colder and colder. This is common in a lot of tropical countries. If you paid for air-conditioning, you will get air-conditioning, no matter how much you hate it.

I spent part of the evening standing on the rear deck, where it was moderately warmer. The ferry company had locked my pack in an on-deck locker, and I couldn't get to it to dig out a sweater. At least I had kept out a long-sleeved T-shirt. A woman in a spaghetti strap top and shorts looked as if she would soon die.

Because they were showing movies, there were no lights in the cabin and I couldn't read. I swear, if I see that movie with The Rock, the one where he goes to Brazil to rescue the rich man's son, one more time I'll scream. It's funny that I can never remember the title. I'm blocking it, I guess. That Andie MacDowell movie with Gerard Depardieu movie, Green Card. I've seen it about 20 times. But I do know its name, at least.

In Altagracia, I once again exercised my talent for just hanging out. There was a small museum, and there were some ancient stone statues in the yard of the church. The town had the standard old houses, in faded bright colors, worn wood, and a small book exchange.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nicaragua: El Castillo

Three hours on a boat to get there, and about the same to get back. Enough time to visit a fort, walk around town a bit, and have lunch. Sounds like a bad day trip, doesn't it? Wrong. Of course, it would have been nicer to stay overnight, but the day trip to the tiny town of El Castillo was great. Especially since I remembered not to dip my fingers in the water and tempt the river sharks.

El Castillo is located on the south side of the San Juan river, in the little band of land that is in Nicaragua. Further down, the river becomes the border, but it is still all in Nicaragua. Costa Rica starts on the bank.

Going down the river, we zigzagged back and forth, dropping off and picking up passengers and cargo at unexpected spots. People got off in the middle of a field, or the boat pulled up to a small clearing in what appeared to be jungle to take on a few passengers. We even called at a fancy resort.

At one point we stopped at field with nothing but a red flag flying on a five foot pole. Men from the boat leaped ashore, picked up a bundle of long bamboo poles, lashed them to the roof, and we motored off again. A little later, a boat pulled alongside and a couple of passengers transfered to our boat. A connection? Had they missed us at one of our frequent stops and hired a sort of taxi to catch up? I'll never know.

The passengers watched the river, pointing things out to each other. My seatmate slept most of the trip, but when he was awake he would gesture for me to look up at a soaring bird, or to the other side of the boat, where a caiman was swimming.

The town of El Castillo was founded around a Spanish fort (El Castillo), set at a bend in the river. It was captured by the British at one point, by a force that included Admiral Nelson, although he was only a lieutenant then.

I walked up to the fort, a bit worried because it was 11:45, it closed for lunch from 12:00 to 1:30, and the return boat was leaving at 2:00. The woman at the gate took me to her office and collected my $2, took a picture of me, and told me to take as long as I wanted. A half hour later, her office was locked and I found her sitting on the steps leading out of the fortf, waiting for me, as long as it was going to take. We walked down the hill together, agreeing that El Castillo was 'muy tranquillo' and 'muy bonita'.

After finding a restaurant overlooking the water that was open, and scaring up a waitress, the only thing left was to explore El Castillo's main, and nearly only, street. Most of the visitors were there to fish, or to visit a nearby national park. Then suddenly it was 1:50 and I had to pick up the pace a little to make sure I made the boat back.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Nicaragua: Hanging Out in San Carlos

So I spent a couple of days wandering around San Carlos. I took pictures. I visited the fort and the park up on the hill. I ate in a restaurant overlooking the lake or munched on hot dogs, and bathed from a bucket.

There was an acute water shortage. I noticed how people adapted by filling barrels every time the water was turned on. Only one of the hotels in town had a water tank.

A doctor's shingle emphasized she had been trained in Cuba, a plus here. Cuba is supposed to have good doctors that have no medicine or other equipment to work with. Being trained there is obviously important

It was one of those towns where you run into people just because they are the only other toursists there. So about half of my walks to anywhere were slowed by a chat with the Italian couple from the boat or the English couple from the hot dog place.

The hot dog place was a find, because restaurants in my price range tend to serve exactly the same meals. And even increasing the price doesn't get you additional variety. Imagine only having McDonald's and Burger King to choose from. They may be different chains, but the difference between what they offer is small.

My room was very cheap, less than $3, but very, very small, and open to the air and the mosquitos. I had to go downstairs to use the facilities. However, it didn't matter, because it had a verandah and rocking chairs. And, apparently, even if I had paid $15 per night, I would have been bathing from a bucket anyway.

So I sat with my book and rocked. I even snaked the cord from my laptop back into the room and sat and rocked while I unloaded my photos.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Nicaragua: San Carlos

Almost as soon as I arrived in San Carlos, I went to the government tourist office, Intur, to see about ferries to Omotepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua formed by two volcanos. Actually it's two islands that merged long ago as their lava met to form a small flat plain between them.

There are only two boats a week from San Carlos. I had thought (though I don't know why, since it wasn't mentioned in any guidebooks) I'd take a bus to Rivas, then take one of the many ferries to Omotepe. However, the narrow strip of land between Lake Nicaragua and Costa Rica that connects San Carlos to the western part of Nicaragua has no bus service. I'm not even sure it has roads. The only other way to leave was on the long 12 hour bus ride to Juigalpa, on to Managua, then back down to Rivas. I opted for the boat. That meant either leaving the next day or waiting until Friday. Since I had a day trip that I wanted to do before I left, I opted for Friday.

One of my options was to go to the Saltinename Islands for three or for days. I decided not to go, and later regretted it. I may never be back to this part of Nicaragua again. I should have gone.

Instead, I did what I do best. I hung out.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Nicaragua: Via the Rio Frio

The Rio Frio runs north into Nicaragua. I managed to make my way down the steep stairs to the boat that would take me across the border, then sat and watched as people and cargo kept coming and coming. I took a couple of pictures, intending to show how croweded the boat was, and each time I realized I should have waited a little longer.

Chaotic as it seemed, everyone got a seat. The ticket seller came aboard and collected money and added names to the manifest. I returned my seven of hearts, the last big bag of something was loaded on board, and we puttered off.

A trip on the Rio Frio is sold in Costa Rica as a tourist attraction, a trip through the jungle. While it was pretty and pleasant, with plants and birds and little clusters of houses, it was hardly wild. Most of the time the 'jungle' was no more than 50 yards deep, and sugar cane fields could be easily seen through the not-so-dense undergrowth.

When we got close to the actual border, we were asked to remove the life vests from the overhead racks and at leastr drape them over our heads to satisfy the policia. We made a quick stop, exchanged a couple of pieces of paper, and motored off again.

Passport control in San Carlos was right at the dock. While waiting in line, three steps to the right would have put me in the water.

It seemed so informal, I even took pictures, something you are never allowed to do at borders.