So where were we......
We had just entered Nicaragua. In the past we have also heard stories of "Banditos" watching tourists coming through immigration, following them out on the road and then car-jacking or worse en route. Well we try and stay vigilant during our crossings and Nicaragua was no different. After driving out of the customs border crossing area we were about 20km from the border in the middle of nowhere when we heard a huge "BANG" and our rear right tyre was a blow out.
The first thing that went through our minds was that some-one had shot out the tyre! After sitting in the cab for a couple of minutes with the machete and mace spray at the ready, James got out and checked the tyre. Fortunately we had a massive blow-out on our "wonderful" Dunlop tyre in the same place James had already patched up 3 times. Realisation that this tyre was now useless did not improve our mood and we were back on the road towards our first stop in Nicaragua -
San Juan del Sur, a small fishing town very popular with surfers.
Accessed 10km north of town we located our chosen camp spot at Cabanas Majagual. A beautiful setting overlooking a beautiful white sand beach, blue water and under the cover of palm trees full of Howler monkeys. We were also welcomed by a Swiss couple travelling in a Nissan Patrol with a Maggiolina roof tent on the top. About 10 min walk down the beach was Nicaragua's most popular surf beach, once again very safe and a beautiful setting. Needless to say we spent 3 days here, surfing, chilling out, more surfing and then….. more surfing. The only down side was that there were quite a few jelly fish around and James got stung quite regularly.
Realising we needed to continue heading North, we reluctantly packed up and set off for our next stop, Granada on the shores Lake Nicaragua. Granada is a wonderful colonial town full of old churches and huge colonial mansions and many tourists. We located the very popular English owned hostel, The Bearded Monkey, famous for their huge portion meals and relaxed atmosphere. The interior courtyard is full of hammocks and quiet places to chill out (just in case we weren't chilled out enough so far). After finding accommodation for Lodzi for the night we explored the city.
The Bearded Monkey was such a cool place to hang out we decided to stay a couple more nights as on the 23rd of December they were going to have a huge Christmas party including a scavenger hunt, pool competition and cheap drinks all night.
Unfortunately the camera was playing up and had killed the memory card so we were with out a camera. Plus we had no spare tyre and therefore decided the best thing to do was locate a new memory card and buy new tyres. We have had our experience with bad tyres now so were intent on locating BF Goodrich tyres. We settled on buying two new tyres for the rear, getting rid of both Dunlops and keeping and old Goodrich for the spare.
We made a successful trip into Managua, purchased our 2 new tyres, found our new memory stick and even had a chance to stop in at Volcan Masaya on the way back to Granada. Not a very high volcano but reputedly the world's largest natural polluter. The volcano emits between 500 and 1000 tonnes of polluting gases EACH DAY!
We were able to drive right up to the rim of the volcano and peer down into the crater, a huge hole about 600 metres down, coughing up a constant yellow haze of gases. At times the wind was in the wrong direction and the sulphuric smoke burnt our throats.
We spent the following day walking around the city of Granada, Kerry taking more and more photos of sunsets and in general, you guessed it just chilling out!
Well Friday night arrived and the party started, first off was the scavenger hunt around the city which was great fun, we were in a team with two Swiss guys and two Dutch guys. Items to collect included trivial information on Nicaragua and the town, water and sand from the "stinky" beaches of Lake Nicaragua and a live gecko. Points were deducted for lost tails (If you know geckos, they drop their tail at the slightest disturbance) Needless to say no-one delivered a gecko with a full tail.
Our team eventually came second winning a small bottle of rum. We were both entered into the pool competition, James knocked out in the first round and Kerry in the second. And finally, the rest of the night was spent socialising with fellow travellers. Of note, Nicaraguan cigars are world famous and James decided to smoke one. He managed the whole one and was fine while smoking, however the following morning he could hardly speak and could not get the taste of stale cigar out his mouth. Serves him right!
The Bearded Monkey has a small sister lodge/hostel on the shores of a volcano crater lake, Laguna Apoyo. We organised with Tom the owner that we could camp there for Xmas eve and spend Xmas morning there. After a 45 min drive from Granada we arrived at the lodge. A gorgeous setting on manicured gardens, a nice open balconied lodge, a jetty out over the water, use of Kayaks and rubber tubes to boot. The biggest surprise was the water was a deep blue, crystal clear and the temperature of a cool bath. HEAVEN!
Not having planned too much for Christmas eve dinner we were waiting to use the kitchen. There were 4 Belgians and one of the girls came over and said they had cooked way too much starters and main meal and would we like some. So we ended up with a great 3 course meal which we both thoroughly enjoyed and went to bed on a full stomach.
Christmas day we woke before sunrise, went down to the water and took two kayaks out onto the lake to watch sunrise over the lake. It would have been very peaceful but a local family on the shores of the lake were blasting out Latino pop music for the entire country to hear. There is also a huge tradition of fire works here. Well not so much visual fire works but LOUD bangs. These were going off almost 24hrs.
After a relaxing 3 hour paddle, and a nice swim we returned to the lodge for a pancake breakfast. Unfortunately no Santa as he had delivered our surf board 3 weeks earlier.
We reluctantly packed up and continued heading North, north…North.
Our next stop was an active volcanic area outside the town of Chinandega about 120km south of the Honduras border. At the base of two volcanos is a shallow vein of the volcano a bubbling mud field, literally hundreds of small holes in the earth with boiling mud bubbling all over the place. No need to keep behind the barriers as our 10 year old guide took us over the edges of the holes and on one occasion proceeded to stick a long pole into the centre of a newly formed hole. What different worlds we live in!
Anyway, the following morning we were up again at sunrise and on to the border for opening time to try and cross Honduras in one day.
We arrived at the Nicaraguan side a little before 8am and paid the $10 to leave Nicaragua with no problems. Onto the Honduran side we had the passports stamped with no problem and then continued to customs to complete the car paperwork. After the initial friendly gestures with the customs guy everything was going along smoothly. He then said we needed to pay for the entry and plucked $33 out the air. I asked for a receipt and only got one for about $20. After confronting the guy he made up another amount and still being confused we queried him again and this time upset him. He chucked the passports and paperwork back and folded his arms. I finally convinced him that we wanted to pay but needed to be clear what we were paying. He then completed the correct paperwork and sent me to the bank to pay the money in.
No problems, I paid the funds to the bank and returned to customs, he had closed up and gone for breakfast - Great we had to wait. When he finally returned I handed him the receipts and was told I needed to go to another office first and pay another $11 for them to enter the info onto the computer. O k a y!!! After paying this I then had to get photocopies of everything and return them to customs who then gave the go ahead and we were in Honduras. We then started our 3 hour drive to the El Salvador border expecting to be targeted by the police whom are notorious in the area for bribes. Only 3 stops which we sailed through saw us arrive at the El Salvador border a little before lunch. We were greeted by chaos!! Thousands of people milling about, every man and his dog shouting to help.
Anyway, 2 hours later we had completed Honduran formalities and El Salvador immigration. El Salvador customs was 5km away and was closed for lunch when we arrived. We waited for an hour and when they finally arrived they started the paperwork, completed the police check and we were sent to another customs office to complete the paperwork. Arriving here the paperwork took another hour to complete but we had to wait an additional hour as the ladies working the photocopier were still at lunch. All formalities were complete by 3pm. Boy was it a stressful day, but we were in El Salvador and headed for San Salvador the capital to meet up with Murgs our old school friend.
We were sorry we did not spend much time in Honduras but the South does not have too much to offer and we wanted to get to El Salvador as soon as possible.
Nicaragua was great, the people really friendly and laid back and prices cheap after Costa Rica. It is unfortunately very populated and you cannot get away from inhabited areas very easily but we really enjoyed our time there.
Next stop El Salvador………