Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Viva Nicaragua!

The last 3 weeks have been well spent travelling and spending time with each other in different places. Michelle and I are slacking a little on our Spanish skills and have already begun losing much of what we learned in Xela! We'll get back on the ball here in a few days.

To the right is a photo of Chris and I pretending to use the "laundromat" in the town of Livingston on the Caribbean. This seemed like a great idea to us because it keeps people from laundering their clothes in freshwater streams, etc. Livingston was a really neat area and I wish we had more pictures to show for it.

We spent very little time in Honduras due to constraints with Cristóbal's return ticket (sorry Chris!). Instead, we made our way directly to Nicaragua and began our journey in the historic city of León. We learned much about
the history of the region and the role which León played in the revolution that rocked the country for decades. Do you vaguely
remember the term Sandinista? To me that name, and even the name of the country NICARAGUA, invokes a slight sense of fear and aprehension. Ironically, Nicaragua and Honduras actually ended up being the two countries in which we felt most comfortable in and where the people were the friendliest. The long road of the Sandinista struggle, and also that of the Nicaraguan people, is a very sad tale indeed--riddled with US interference and many lost Nicaraguan lives. During our journey through this beautiful volcano strewn country, many of the people we met had a brother, cousin or father who was killed in the struggle against the Contras. The Contras, funded by yours truly, were organized to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Sandinistas. It is a sad tale and one that is better left in the past as evidenced by the kind and peaceful nature of the Nicaraguan people. Nicaraguans are romantics. They play love songs from the 80's in the chicken buses and their national idol is a poet from León named Rubén Darío. When people found out we were from the US, not an inch of disdain followed....there may have been a moments of hesitation, but they treated us with just as much kindness and warmth as before they knew. The photo above is of a mural right in downtown Leon to commemorate all these who died fighting the cause.

On to the trip.... We spent a few nights in León, visited several museums including the Rubén Darío museum, and went inside the largest church in Central America - an entire city block (it was quite impressive). After León, we took a 1 hour bus ride to the beautiful beach area of Ponoloya, and Las Peñitas. There we spent a few days in the house of a retired Canadian family. Cristóbal really enjoyed his beach time and he developed a nice tan. He also got to practice swimming in the ocean with currents, waves and all. Cheese and fresh tortillas ended up being our staple during the days and at night we would improvise by throwing together whatever ingredients we could find at the tiny market.

After leaving León, we visited the rival city of Granada. Granada is the oldest colonial city in Central America and is known for it's more conservative and wealthy consituents--the spit shine and polish are obvious and opulent. Many people compare it to Antigua in Guatemala, and just like Antigua it is home to loads of tourists and runs more on the gringofied side. Although beautiful and indeed very colonial, street begging, including that of children, was more prevalent here than anywhere else thus far. The separation between the have's and the have not's was more sharpely defined. BMW suv's would roll past a kid with no shoes working at 11: PM on the street. This became a bit trying both because of the sadness of the situation and because it involved constant decision making.... Should I help this one kid or ignore him, and on and on. We actually got roped into helping a very pathetic crying elderly woman with a medical prescription in her hand that she couldn't pay for.... We walked with her to the pharmacy on the other side of town but there it turned out that all the doctor had ordered was the US equivalent of powdered Ensure. We were suckers here for sure because we bought it for her, but at least it made her day and hopefully the $6 can will last a few months.

Outside of Granada, we also visited the market town of Masaya and caught a bus to the rim of a volcano with a huge lake in the crater named Apoyo. We hiked the 3 km down to the lake and spent the afternoon swimming and exploring. On the hike down we came across a troupe of monkeys swinging and howling from the trees just next to and above us. It was an amazing experience deep in the heart of the jungle and one I don't think any of us will ever forget. Chris brought his goggles and had fun exploring underwater and the ledge where the beach dropped off into the great depths of the crater.

We spent the last three days in Nicaragua at another neat beach spot named San Juan Del Sur where we took a shuttle each day to a remote, stunningly breathtaking beach cove 12km north of the village named Playa Madera. The surfing here was spectacular and I was kicking myself for not renting a board--but it's a little difficult to hang out with family while surfing. It ended up being just as much fun exploring the amazing beach coves and walking on the rocks and tide pools. Chris and I had a little adventure where we waded across knee deep water to make it out to a spectacular point named "Indian Rock''... but on the way back, just 10 minutes later, we came up against the rising tide. We ended swimming and stumbling and falling in waist to chest high water with a backpacks on and we had to work together to make it up the slick rocks on the other side. Definitely an adrenaline pumping experience that neither of us will forget. !Great job Cristóbal!

Inland from San Juan Del Sur is the enormous Lake Nicaragua which houses the twin volcano island of Ometepe. Any visit to Nicaragua is not complete without a trip to this island, and we were kicking ourselves for not having time to visit, but we are saving it for another voyage. Other travellers from as far away as Mexico told us that we had to visit and stay on this island for awhile. Next time......

After San Juan Del Sur we took several buses to the border of Costa Rica (only 1.5 hours away) and then crossed the border and caught another bus directly to San Jose where Chris would fly out. Timing at each interchange worked out perfectly, with sometimes minutes to spare in between changes. We also had to pull new money out in Costa Rica because we were about out of dinero. Getting used to 590 colones to 1 dollar took some time. Buying a bag of chips for $1,500 of any currency just sounds like a lot. Imagine a meal, or even paying for a hotel. It was over $16,000 just for a hotel night. The irony here is that not only does it seem expensive, it actually is. Costa Rica was the most expensive country we have visited in our travels throughout Central America. The high currency exchange is difficult to rationalize when you are making purchases anyway, but when you do figure it out, the prices are similar to what you would pay in the thanks!

With a day to spend in San Jose before Cristóbal's flight, we walked around, ate sweet dessert items at the many panaderias (bread stores), and just killed time. We also had the unbelievable surprise of running into our old friend Graham from Xela. We haven't mentioned Graham yet, but we lived together in the same house in Xela for about a week. Graham is British, and he's on a bike ride from San Diego to Buenos Aires. We parted in Xela, thinking that we wouldn't see him again, but sure enough, we arrived in San Jose on the exact same day. It was a really nice surprise, and we were able to catch up on his journeys, and exchange stories. Chris was exceptionally excited to see him. Chris picked up Graham's British accent in Xela, and we thought it was funny, so we encouraged him to keep it up if he liked it. It was really funny having a serious conversation with Chris while having the responses fade in and out between a British and American accent. It's especially funny that Cristóbal travelled all this way to Central America and instead of picking up Spanish he picked up British. Chris I hope you're still keeping the accent going! I'm sure Graham will appreciate it!

After taking Chris to the Airport, after many hugs and kisses and many waves for as long as we could see him (as he walked through the security line), Michelle and I took the public bus back to town. Before we left the airport, however, we met a guy who works up in the traffic control tower who invited us up to the tower any time for a cup of coffee and to hang out. Incredible! Instead of taking him up on his offer we packed up immediately, hoofed it to the bus station (cabs were outrageous), and caught a bus just a few hours later for the Southeast beaches of Costa Rica....and the Border to Panama.

Michelle and I spent two nights at the beach town of Cahuita in Costa Rica on the Caribbean. During the day, we hiked the length of Cahuita National Park along the beach and saw beautiful stretches of beach and jungle, with lots of animal sightings including monkeys and unique birds. It's the most incredible experience to walk along a trail which skirts the Caribbean but is in the jungle. The whole way the muted sounds of the surf can be heard mingled in with the tropical notes of birds, insects, monkeys and other sounds of the jungle.

After this, we headed straight for the border of Panama to get out of expensive Costa Rica. After reaching the border in 1.5 hours, we left Costa Rica by walking the length of a rickety old rusted train bridge to get into Panama.

For anyone who buses into Panama (you never know), there's a little racket going on with Panamanian immigration that you might want to prepare for. At the border, Panama requires you to show proof of an outbound ticket, and if you can't you have to buy a return bus ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica right there at the border. The ticket is supposedly good for a year even though right on the ticket we could read the Spanish which said the ticket was only valid for the same day at 10: AM (even though it was 3: in the afternoon). We asked if we could just buy a ticket to the first town in Costa Rica, and they said, "absolutely", but the price was the same. If that isn't a scam I'm not sure what is. I'm sure these ticket prices are either split with the government of Panama or even more likely, the immigration officials. My recommendation, printout any kind of itinerary you can which shows you have some sort of a ticket, so you don't have to pay this fee. Second recommendation, make up a fake itinerary.

.......Before we close, I had to post this photo of some graffiti in León, Nicaragua. It's a somewhat sobering reminder of how our actions can be percieved by those around the world. This was written on a wall in the parque central (Central Park). There was no other graffiti around, and no one seemed to be in a hurry to remove it. It reads....Bush Genocide, Enemy of Humanity.

And now......On to Panama!


  1. Steve finally sent me a link to your blog. Wow, what an amazing adventure you guys are enjoying. I haven't read through all the postings yet, but I plan to. Christina.

  2. Miss and love you auntie. Your new post is amazing..and you look so beautiful!

  3. OK, you guys, where are you. It is already September. Nobody seems to know what your next escapade is. Chris got home safely, back to the good ole USA and back to school but what is happening with you both? Thanks for the emails with the precious pictures. I forwarded them to my brother, Marc, in Bruges and he will take his laptop to mom so she can see you. Always praying for your safety and speedy return. Love

  4. Awesome!
    The same places Monika and me visited in August - Leon, Beaches on the Pacific coast and Granada. I absolutely loved it there. You are right - the people are beautiful there, so friendly, pleasure to be around...