New years eve playing UNO

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
nature reserve
Hostel Castillo
hotel san carlos

Flag of Nicaragua  , Río San Juan,
Monday, January 3, 2011

Day 1 - Transit, River boat to Reserve
Woke up to see if there was a 4am bus but found that the first bus was a 5am. After waiting til 5am found out that this bus was not coming and the next one would be at 7am. After talking with a guy at the bus station decided to catch a different bus and try to transfer to another bus that was heading to San Carlos from a different destination.

After 3 hours on the bus ended up reaching an intersection where we found we had just missed the bus. Ended up getting a ride in the back of a pickup to a small nearby town where the bus was suppose to have a small break. Once again found we had missed the bus. Also while we had a vague idea where we were (ie somewhere on a given road to San Carlos) we had no real clue as to our exact location.

Decided to see if we could find a ride but no luck. Could have caught a cab but decided to wait and see if a bus to San Carlos would come pass. In the worst case the 7am bus (provided it ran) should of come past in a couple of hours.

Within an hour a bus showed up (6am bus from Managua) and while it was choker block full of people the driver let us squeeze on ahead of the locals. Was at a 45 degree angle for the first 5 minutes and was wandering how my muscles would survive. Thankfully the guy next to me moved and let me get both my feet on the ground and stand in an upright position. Everyone was squashed together for the first 1hr or so of the trip but people slowly got off the bus and even managed to score a seat before a whole bunch of other people got on.

Probably have to say that the trip out to San Carlos has been one of the more interesting and fun bus rides Ive had this trip. Definitely more fun than the boat would have been. Should be noted though that I definitely would have waited in Managua for a bus. Given I have next to no spanish need to keep things simple since I cant really ask questions.

Met Walter who is a forest engineer volunteering for a year at the reserve. Note that Central America had a lot of engineers for various industries and fields (eg forest, fisheries engineers). Guess they are engineers in the sense that they design, use and maintain some sort of process to solve a problem.

Decided to spend a couple of night out on the Finica since it would be nicer than town and since we were not going out for full days we would get a discount. Bought lunch and a few drinks (since its new years eve) and slowly cruised out along the river to the finica. Saw a few monkeys and birds, as well as a turtle along the way. Also a few large trees and houses.

Got a bit of a history lesson on Nicaragua. With the two rivers that run from the lake into the two oceans on each side of CA, Nicaragua provides a natural passage between the oceans. As a result foreign powers have always been interested in running Nicuragua. Seems like the Panama Canal would have been running through Nicuragua if the government of the time hadnt declined the offer.

By about 7:30pm we had no electricty. Appear the place runs on solar power and the lack of sunlight (and cheap solar cells) meant not much power stored. On top of that the backup generator seemed to be broken and so we ended up having no lights. We did have some music though since it appears that the power to everything but the light comes from another solar battery.

Ended up seeing the new year in playing Uno. By this time Walter was also asleep since he had been into a bit to much rum earlier in the night.

Day 2 – Jungle Walk and Search for the Elusive Caimen
Ended up being woken at around 5:30am to the sound of howler monkeys in the nearby jungle. Since I wasn't particulary tired decided to get up and go for a walk. Ended up finding a howler monkey in the trees just behind the room I was staying in. Also wandered down to the river but didn’t have bug repellent an and wanted to avoid all of the mossies.

After wandering around a bit found a trail by the river which I decided to follow. Had to turn around after about 5 minutes since the trail was full of mud and my thongs kept getting sucked in and pulled off my feet. Decided to head back to the room for my shoes and try again.

Lots of mud with me sinking past the ankle. Didnt find much but it was a nice enough walk by the river. Guess with the river flooding the land by it is still socked through with water. Headed back to the dock to watch the kingfisher birds by the river and listen to the Howler monkeys which were still going off.

Didnt have breakfast til 9:30 and start the walk in the jungle til 10:30. Given most animals are more active first thing in the morning it probably was a little late to be starting. Given Walter had been so drunk the night before (given it was new years) guess the late start is understandable though I would have like to have started by 6:30am at the latest.

Nice enough walk through the jungle though very little animal life. Ended up seeing a whole bunch of iguana in a fenced off area and a number of birds. Also a few jaguar tracks but that was about all. Also tried a jungle fruit that tasted a bit like a pear. In the end decided to walk all the way to the orange grove at the other end of the reserve. Had lunch and took a few oranges for dessert before heading back.

Were lucky enough for the guys at the reserve to catch some fresh water shrimp. The one part of the trip that delivered as advertised. Had originally thought these might be like yabbies but these suckers are big and look a more like fresh water crayfish. Definitely taste good though you have to work at it to get the meat out.

That evening took the boat out to look for caimens (I think they are like alligators) but had no luck. Could hear lots of them about but were unable to find or catch any. First part of the night had the stars out which was nice but unfortunately the clouds rolled in way to soon to block the view. While we didn’t find any caimen didn’t mind just floating on the river at night.

Day 3 – Cocoa Tour and Hot Springs
Had an early start to get the boat out to El Castillo and visit the castle before heading back to ... .Upon reaching the dock found out the boat was full and that it was a couple of hours until the next one. When the boat arrived ended up deciding to try and get on anyways. Once again Valerie knowing Spanish helped. Managed to get the guy on the boat to let us on and sit in the aisle. After an hour or so enough people got off for us to get a seat.

Along the way found that there was no afternoon boat back from El Castillo (it being Sunday) and so decided to get off at ... and go to the hostel that had been recommended. After checking in headed out to the Cacoa processing cooperative.

Here we learnt about organic cocoa processing. Basically the process starts with the seeds being taken out of the fruit and placed into a tray where they are covered by banana leaves (naturally covered in animal by products). Here the temperature is controlled and the seeds left to ferment for 8 days giving a moisture level of about 24%.

After this the seeds are moved into a greenhouse where they start to get dried out by the sun. They stay here and get rotated every 30min or so and stay here for 8days. By this point their moister level is 16%. Here also are put the seeds of lower quality that don’t go through the fermentation process and which get sold on the local market. Can definitely tast how the fermentation process provides the flavour to the cocoa.

From here the seeds go into another location where they placed on brick shelves that are heated from below. Once again they stay here for 8 days and their moisture level is once more reduced down to 8%. These seeds definitely taste a lot sweeter than the seeds from the previous step of the process.

Finally from here the seeds get sorted based on quality and shipped out to get processed into cocoa products.

Was still early in the day and the guy from the Cacoa cooperative told us about some hot springs so we decided to see if we could get out there. Finally managed to find some guys to take us at a reasonable price.

Ended up being a 1 hr drive along a bumpy road to get out to the place and then over a half hour walk to reach the place. Must say that this jungle walk was probably nicer than the one through the reserve the day before. Lots of mud though and wearing thongs was not a good idea since the mud kept sucking thing off and pulling out the toe hold. Ended up taking them off and going barefoot through the muddiest parts of the trail. If I hadn’t I would have had to stoop every couple of minutes to fix my thongs.

Found the hot spring which ran into the river. At its source you could see the steam rising and I would guess it was close to boiling. Continued along a trail to a point further down river where there was a large pool. Ended up deciding to jump in a nearby cool water pool first then into the warm one. Water was a nice temperature. About that of a warm bath. Unfortunately a bit late in the day and so only had a bit over 30min to enjoy the warm water (something that seems in short supply in any hotel room) before having to head back so we could get out of the jungle before dark.

On the way back found something that looked like a lychee. This though was not a fruit but rather had some seeds inside that I later found were used to make a red die. Girls decided that they would put some on their faces and it definitely was a bright red color.

Got back to the 4wd and the guys we were with decided to climb onto the roof rack of the truck. We decided to join them and it was great fun holding on as we bumped along the road back to town and watch the locals as we passed by with the girls singling along. Thankfully the sky was clear and we could see all the stars shining in the sky above.

Stopped off for a beer along the way and though we got back by 8pm found that everything was closed in town. Guess I had forgotten that most places (unlike Granada and Ometepe) close early. Ended up having a guy from the nearby hotel help us out by getting a small grocery store to open up so we could buy some food for a sandwich.

Ended the night with a meal of tuna sandwiches.

Day 4 – El Castillo but no Castle
Had the pineapple we bough the night before for breakfast and headed out early for the first boat. Unfortunately out bad luck with transport is holding out and we found that the first boat out of San Carlos was broken and we would have to wait 2 hours for the next one.

Ended up getting into El Castillo and having a proper breakfast at a nice small restaurant. Was asked what my new years resolution was and said that it would be to go home before the end of the year. Thinking about it after though I would probably say that it is to make a change. What change. Dont know. Will wait to see what the coming year has to offer.

Definately a nice little town with the wooden buildings and peaceful vibe. Ran into a couple of friends of the girls who were looking for people to do a hike and considered doing it. Decided not to since I wasnt sure where the imigration office was and I wanted to make sure I caught the first boat out.

After breakfast we found out that the Castillo was closed from 12-2pm and that since it was Sunday, the last boat was leaving at 2pm. Seems like Nicuraguans like to have a spanish siesta (in some of the most unexpected place) but dont seem to like the idea of hours extended past 5pm. In the end decided to just wander around town and head up to the cemetary to get a view of the town and castle.

Caught the boat back and it took close to 3hrs suggesting it was probably a good thing that I didnt end up spending the night in El Castillo and catch the morning boat. didnt have anything to do since San Carlos is a small town where everything closes early so saw the girls off at the bus station before heading back and crashing out.

Should be noted that prior to the last few days I hadnt realised how long its actually been since I sent a whole day with the same people let alone more than one.

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