Nipping up to Nicaragua

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So after such a wonderful few trip through the San Blas we came back to earth with a bang in tiny little Portobelo and started wandering what to do next. We literally had not planned past this and had no idea what to do- we didn't even have a guidebook. Then it dawned on us that we really didn’t have very long as we had a flight to catch in Cancun in 10 days time to get back for our friends Tom & Corinne’s wedding in the UK. Then it we realised that Cancun is a really long way away from Portobelo. And that buses in Central America are mostly of the slow and crap variety. Uh-oh.

We decided that in the circumstances the only thing to do was to press on as quickly as possible. So two long and slow bus rides (one spend standing) and a few hours spent in a Panama City mall later we found ourselves on a night bus heading across Panama to Costa Rica and the capital San Jose. We stopped there only long enough to marvel at the absolutely extraordinary afternoon thunderstorms (that were like standing in a power shower with thunder so loud and close and you could feel the vibration on the top of your head), buy a central America guidebook and get bus tickets to our next destination; Monteverde. We had picked Monteverde because, importantly, it was in the right direction for Cancun along the pan-American highway but secondly because we had heard it was quite a fun place and the best place in Costa Rica to do a canopy zip wire tour- something we hadn’t done yet and Gordon liked the sound of. Although Sarah was a little apprehensive about this given her lack of love for heights, it turned out to be a blast. You basically spend a happy 3-4 hours clipping yourself to a metal wire on one platform and then slide across a big valley onto another platform. It also included a Tarzan swing that involved jumping off a platform attached to a top rope and swinging out into the trees, 60m above the ground. The climax was the 1km long, 100 odd metre high "Superman Wire" where you went face down, feet held up behind you superman style. It was quite something. Sarah made it down without wetting herself as well.

The following morning we had to get up at the crack of dawn (actually before that at around 3am - if anyone ever tells you travelling around Costa Rica is easy don’t believe them) in order to start our marathon journey of 5 different buses, a taxi and a boat to Nicaragua and specifically the volcanic island of Ometepe in Lago Nicargua where our friend Raakhee was waiting for us. Raakhee is a colleague of Sarah’s who six months after we left decided to 'do a Beardo’ and go travelling.  Since February she’d been in South & Central America so after 4 months of trying to meet up we were a little over-excited to finally see each other.

Ometepe is really quite a beautiful place. It is an island in the middle of a massive, sea-like Lago Nicaragua that is formed of 2 volcanoes that rise up out of the lake and is quite stunning. It was also a fun place, with a busy hostel full of nice people and fantastic, cheap food in all of the restaurants.  After an evening chatting non-stop with Raakhee until Sarah lost her voice entirely and celebrating 4th of July with some nice Americans we got up (quite late) the next day and hired a couple of mopeds to go off and explore the island. This was particularly interesting as neither Sarah nor Raakhee have ever driven one themselves and they needed too as the shop wouldn’t let all three of us ride around on one.

After a brief moped lesson we set off round the island, stopping first at a beautiful swimming hole with crystal clear, cool water, followed by lunch at a lake-beach restaurant where we had cheap lobster and several stops for photos of the volcanoes that had poked themselves out of the clouds.  Feeling Sarah & Raakhee had the moped-driving nailed we then decided to continue on a loop around the whole island. Now, the guy in the moped shop had specifically forbidden this as he said the road was in really bad condition but well, the alternative was going back the way we came and the island was just crying out to be circumnavigated. How bad could it be? Well, bad it seems. Picture narrow steep hills with huge potholes and a road mostly composed of intermingled sand and cricketball sized rocks. Tricky going on a moped - particularly if you have never ridden one before. After about an hour the amusement value of the situation had started to wear off as it started to get dark and there was still no sign of the town. Everyone who we passed and asked directions of merely pointed along the terrible road and when asked how much further it was simply shrugged and, usually accompanied by a hint of a smirk, replied that it depends how fast you go. On a particularly bad section our luck finally ran out and Raakhee’s bike slipped on a rock and went down. Fortunately, Raakhee was fine with only a bit of a bashed thumb but the same could not be said of the moped which it was a little bashed up. Ooops. Gordon was not popular for having insisted on the circumnavigation. Happily we reached a not-too-expensive agreement with the bike owner on how much of our deposit he would keep which allowed us to go out and drink Pina Colada’s and eat more fantastic Ometepan food.

The plan had been to get up early the following morning to climb to the summit of one of the volcanoes and we emerged out about 6am to have a look at the weather and decide whether or not to go ahead. The weather looked a little cloudy and, in a slightly tired and hungover state and mindful of just how damn hot it had been the previous day we decided to give it a miss. We are, it has to be said, finally just about over volcanoes.

Instead, we decided after a second breakfast of fantastic Eggs Benedict in a row at the fabulous Cornerhouse cafe on Ometepe (run by a nice Brit) to head off the island and across to the Pacific coastline and the beach resort of San Juan del Sur. We realised, to our surprise that the whole way up from Ushuaia we had only been on the Pacific coast once in Arica, Chile, 10,000 odd km of coastline away - something that had to be remedied. It was also our last night with Raakhee as she was heading south and we were going north and we fancied heading out for some drinks and dancing. San Juan didn’t disappoint and after manic hour at a bar with Ladies night (aka free drinks for ladies until 10pm, aka how many cocktails can Sarah & Raakhee drink against the clock) we found ourselves in a lively bar and graced the dancefloor with our presence. It was only slightly marred by the fact that the DJ was one of those who seemed incapable of playing a single song the whole way through. Instead he would mix 2 (or 3 or 4!) songs into and out of each other and mess with every single one (why?! just leave it for goodness sake!) oblivious of the fact that he kept emptying the dancefloor and with his antics and ignoring Sarah’s repeated requests for Shakira.

The next day we headed back to the main highway together where we said sadly goodbye to Raakhee after a fabulous few days and headed our separate ways – although not before a taking a photo of Sarah and Raakhee together by the sea each with a monstrous backpack to send to their jealous colleagues back in London.
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