El Castillo

Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
Trip End Feb 23, 2009

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Thursday, February 12, 2009

On arrival at least El Castillo appeared to be cleaner and more attractive than where we'd just come from.  It was a relief when we discovered the locals were also more hospitable that the orange-chucking boys back in San Carlos.

Once we arrived at the dock and had "locked and loaded" our packs (Martin's phrase), we headed off to find accommodation.  Our first few tries were fruitless, but we did eventually find a clean and pleasantly decorated hotel at the end of the road: the Hotel Victoria.  It was the most expensive hotel in El Castillo at $35/night.

It was so relaxing on our first evening in El Castillo sitting in the hotel restaurant overlooking the water, enjoying the sunset on the water and dining on river shrimp.  They were huge - actually more like crayfish than shrimp.  We'd had so little to eat all day!  (I guess we could have eaten oranges if we'd wanted to! - ha, ha). 

Later on, we took a look around, checking out the cemetary and the school.  Pool must be a popular game here because there were several pool halls in the tiny town.  After booking a tour to a farm or "finca" for the next day, we continued to explore until the rain drove us back to our hotel.  No wonder everyone here wears rubber boots!  (There's also a series of cement sidewalks along the main routes to keep feet from getting muddy.  Our hotel also had a mat made from fabric scraps at the door for guests to wipe their feet on.)  Karen and Steve taught us pinochle until 8 pm when we could no longer keep our eyes open.  The generators turned off at 9 pm so it was lights out early.  The hotel provided minimal bedding and we spent a chilly night! 

In the morning at breakfast, our tour guide, Sayla, and her brother, Wilmer, came to pick us up for our trip to the finca.  Before leaving dry land, we all selected a pair of rubber boots for tromping around the farm.  We took two canoes: Martin and I paddled with Wilmer and Karen and Steve went with Sayla.

The San Juan River divides Nicaragua from Costa Rica.  Much of the land along the river is being bought up by expats for tourism purposes; we were told that one of the developments downstream was owned by "Jeff" from Canada. En route to the finca we saw livestock, as well as birds, including egrets, herons and parrots.  After about two hours of easy paddling, we arrived at Sayla's father's farm.

Once we started our walk, it became very obvious to us as to why we were wearing rubber boots.  On entering the rainforest, the ground is damp, muddy and slick.  The air is thick and humid and the mozzies were ravenous.  I can't imagine what it would be like during the rainy season!  (All of us managed to keep our footing until clumsy me fell on my behind on our way back to the canoes.  I wasn't hurt - just my pride was damaged.)

Sayla amazed us with her knowledge of the flora and fauna.  We saw a wide variety of wild and cultivated plants: various ferns and palms, cocoa plants, vanilla vine, pineapple plants and senstive plants whose leaves curl up when you touch them.  Wilmer sliced off a small piece of cinnamon bark for each of us to chew on.  In the bean field was a tiny little frog about the size of my thumb nail called a "blue jean" frog which is poisonus if ingested.  There were also lots of other signs of life deep in the rainforest: leafcutter ants, blue dragonflies, bullet ants (also poisonous), hummingbirds, pigeons and swallows.  Sayla told us that almond trees have been overharvested in the area and have largely disappeared.  As a consequence, macaws, which feed on the almonds and build their nests in the trees, have also been greatly reduced in numbers.  At the end of the tour, we stopped to feast on pineapple and coconut grown on the farm. 

Because we would have been travelling upstream against the current on the way back to town, another of Sayla's brothers, Giovanni, arrived with his motor boat to take us back to El Castillo.  He simply chained both canoes to his boat and we were off! 

It was almost mid-afternoon by the time we arrived back to town.  Since the fortress closed at 3 pm, we rushed to be able to see it before the doors were closed for the day.  El Forteleza de la Limpia Pura e Inmaculada Concepcion (yes, that's its proper name!) was constructed between 1673 and 1675.  Our guidebook mentioned that the location overlooking the rapids (Faudal El Diablo) was strategic to slow down invaders who arrived from up river.  Over the years, El Forteleza has been in the hands of the Spanish, the English and both the Sandinistas and the Contras.  There is much forklore surrounding events at El Forteleza, including a story of the daughter of a Spanish commander who turned away invading pirates by shooting a cannon that sunk the lead ship.  The views from the fortress overlooking the river and the town are stunning.

Sad to say that El Castillo was where we parted ways with Steve and Karen.  They were heading to Costa Rica and we were going in the opposite direction towards El Salvador.  It was a blast reaquaiting ourselves with them - hopefully we'll travel together again some day!

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