Thursday, August 22, 2013


The hills around EstelĂ­

Coffee, Meusli, more coffee and off to the next border crossing. Hardly a vehicle on the road. It should be quiet at the border - not!! Again, rows of trucks, queued facing in both directions. It seems that having queued on one side of the border, they need a rest to recover once they get to the other side. Maybe they spent all night (or the past 3 nights) trying to get through. Having passed all of the trucks I was waved down by police and aswarm of “guides” - seemingly officially approved helpers with cards around their necks. Given that the police indicated that I needed to use one, and given that there were dozens of ramshackle buildings, I decided not to argue and was adopted by “guia numero dos”. He was actually very helpful, whisking me from window to window, filling in the forms for me so all I had to do was follow and sign on the dotted line when told. A small payment enabled me to skip the reasonably long queue at the window. I’m not sure where everyone had come from given the absence of vehicles on the road - maybe a bus had come in. I decided that the $5 that my guide cost me was good value for money. I was out of Honduras and into no-man’s land.

Now to get into Nicaragua. Another  “guia officale”, took my passport, drivers licence and vehicle title papers and whisked me to immigration where, for yet another fee I was issued with a tourist permit. No problem. Then to aduana (customs) where they tortuously  entered all of the details into the computer whilst my guide kept shouting “dos bicicletas” whenever they looked up from the computer. I’m thinking, “shut the f... up and just get the paperwork done so I can go”.  Finally I sign on the dotted line and get my documents. I then drive 30m before I am flagged down and a policeman checks all of the papers. “Todo es bien” (everything is fine) so I’m off to Nicaragua.... but no, there is a rope across the road and yet another request for papers. Vehicle import permit - bien. Dos bicicletas - bien. Un kayak....Nothing on the papers about a kayak...un problema! Where are my papers for the kayak? Where is the motor? It doesn’t have a motor...its a kayak. (to be fair, we are in the mountains and they probably have never encountered a boat on the roof of a car before). 

So...they take all of the papers that they have just filled out and return to customs. Now they need the serial number of the kayak...oh...and the serial numbers of the bikes (which they hadn’t needed before), an now its raining, and I have to move my car because now all the trucks are gridlocked and they have to move everyone in order to get 200 trucks through one lane of road! Three people take it in turns to enter the information into the computer. Eventually I get a new piece of paper - identical to the original with no mention of kayak. I return to the rope with the new, but identical, piece of paper and this time, “todo es bien”, the rope drops to the ground, I drive across - I’m in Nicaragua - am I through or is there someone else who needs to check? No, all clear, I’m off...3 hours later!!

A real, live environmental services project
Deep breath...relax...the countryside is beautiful....the lush greenery of farmlands and second (3rd? 4th?) growth woodlands. But something is not quite right. The most obvious thing is that the road is excellent, no potholes, verges and even paved sidewalks... but that’s not it. What’s wrong? After about 10 kms it clicks...there is no rubbish. Not only is the road good,  and the surroundings luxuriant, there is almost no rubbish! I don’t know if this is indicative of the rest of Nicaragua, but what a delight to drive through a clean, green landscape!

An hour’s drive brings me to Esteli where I take a small side road towards Reserva Natural Cerro Tisey-Estanzuela which climbs steeply and bumpily through plantations, cattle farms  and scattered woodlands in what appears to be a well managed, multiple-use landscape, finally arriving at an eco-posada (eco-lodge) where I set up camp just as the first cooling rain-squalls whisk through. Cool enough in fact to enjoy un vino tinto rather than the usual cervesa! 

The next few days were spent wondering around the lush landscapes around Esteli and Matagalpa. You get the feeling that, given that you have to have agriculture, these guys have sort of got the mix right, with lots of vegetation remaining in what is otherwise a diverse and productive landscape with areas of rice paddies alternating with patches of suger cane and as you gain a bit of altitude cattle and coffee become dominant. What is missing though is some large untouched areas to sustain some of the more vulnerable species. 

Neighbors at Vulcan Masaya

Fittingly, I was in Matagalpa, birthplace of Carlos Fonseca, a leader of the Sandanista revolution, for the 35th aniversary of the overthrow of the US-backed Somoza regime. With fireworks exploding throughout the day and night it sounded like the war was still happening! It’s very inspirational to see, first hand, these vibrant communities (although not without their problems) governed by the people that many of us campaigned for in our uni days.

From the northern parts I made my way towards Lake Nicaragua and Grenada, skirting around Managua to spend a few nights camped in Parque Nacionale Vulcan Masaya where I met with a local Nicaraguan birder and spent a morning with him exploring some good spots near the volcano. The volcano itself was a little underwhelming as it was not possible to explore beyond the carpark at the lip of the crater and, because there was so much smoke coming from the volcano there was no view inside. Mind you, it was worth it for the views over Lake Nicaragua and towards other volcanic peaks to the south.
The ferry to Omatepe

The port at Moyogalpa

Lakefront campsite

...with Kahlia, my host for a couple of days

In Granada I caught up with Michael and Mariana again following their return from a slight detour to Germany. They were continuing on to explore Costa Rica whilst I made my way to the spectacular island of Omatepe, in Lake Nicaragua, just off Granada. A ferry took me and the car across the choppy lake and after exploring some of the island I found a delightful restaurant overlooking the beach on the spit between the two volcanos. Conveniently it had a small beach-front parking space perfctly suited for camping and Kahlia, the owner was more than happy for me to park there. This became home for several nights, practicing my Spanish with Kahlia and touring the island with her to meet other friends of hers in Moyogalpa. Also spent a day exploring with an American girl who had come to the island for the day but had no spanish, so was struggling a bit. We poked around the bumpy roads of the southern half of the island, stopping in the little villages for a beer and also having a dip in a beautiful waterhole surrounded by forest. 

From Granada I went to nearby Lago do Apoyo, a beautiful crater lake also surrounded by forest where I camped on the road outside a research station that also had accommodation and provides spanish lessons. I thought this might be a good place to come back to for spanish classes, but its all a bit cramped and there is nowhere to park my truck so I decided I needed somewhere with a bit more space. 

And would you believe it, my next destination, Playa Majugual, a stunning beach on the Pacific coast just north of the Costa Rica Border has fantastic beachfront camping and a local guy with good english who also teaches spanish. Local vallagers come by every day with fresh catches of lobster, fish, fruit and vegetables and there is even an ice-ream man! Perfecto - I suspect this may be my new classroom!
Beachfront camp....
...with million dollar views...for $5 a night!

Here I also caught up again with Carol, whom I had previously shared a campsite with in a balneario (waterpark) back in Guatemala. Lazed about on the beach here for a few days, with occasional energetic bike rides to adjoining beaches, until I received notification that my kayak part had arrived in Costa Rica so, taking a deep breath, I set off once again for another horrendous border crossing.