Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, October 31, 2003

Leon, Granada, Masaya National Park, Isla Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua

(I have been on this for two hours and have run out of time so am sending this anyway and will catch up with Honduras and Nicaragua later).

I know... itīs been a long time. Almost a month and no update on where I have been. I have found myself so settled into life over here that things donīt feel that alien anymore. I have come to a bit of a block on writing emails as each country that we go in to looks and feels slightly different but I have been asking myself what the differences are. They are so subtle. Now that we have been through five countries in the last month I beginning to be able to look back and see what has changed along the way.

I left you on the beach in Xpuha (pronounced ish-boo-ha of course) in Mexico and I am now in Granada, Nicaragua. I must try and find a map of Central America soon to visualise my journey on a larger scale. I have an immense feeling of serenity, happiness, eyes wide and bright, mind opened, heart free, soul calmed and life peaceful... The half way mark of the trip slid by last week almost unnoticed but since then we have all finding ourselves thinking of home. Myself and Jo in particular have found ourselves throwing ideas around in our heads of what we would like to do when we return to the UK. This is what I have been searching for. The time and space to think about my future without any pressure. To be able to day dream without having to force myself to come up with solutions. I still donīt really have any solutions but I know that I am less frightened of not knowing what the future holds and know that it will all fall in to place when it needs to. General consensus in the group, as they have had to watch me go drool over food and understand my passion, is that I should become a food writer/critic. Wouldnīt I just love that. So not one to miss my calling and I am looking into the possibilities. It may just be wishful thinking but something to look at none the less.

We havenīt camped since Xpuha (Mexico, over a month ago) and spend all of our time in hotels. They are cheap as chips but the quality is astounding and the beauty of these places means we are spoilt rotten. All of the rooms are so beautiful... two double beds in each room, nice white cotton sheets, ceiling fans that move the air around as it has been so hot for weeks, en suite bathrooms with showers and no cockroaches. This will all change in South America where we will probably be in dorms and I know it is going to be much colder.

Anyway back to the stunning hotels in Central America. In most towns and cities where we are staying the hotels consist of a huge wooden door in a street lined with buildings painted mustard yellow, greens and blue. Once you walk through the door and through an archway the corridor opens up into a courtyard (very Spanish) which is full of tropical plants and lush green ferns, usually there will be a parrot or two on a perch chirping Hola! Hola! Sometimes there will be a fountain in the middle which trickles dreamily all through the night. There are rooms on two floors which all face into the courtyard and a balcony on the first floor from which you can lean in and look down on the plants and water. Sometimes it is peaceful through the night, other times there could be children running around laughing and playing or on the other hand men fixing things at seven in the morning, hammers banging, radio playing local music... either way it is part of the country we are in.

Next morning we went over the border into Nicaragua (you know the procedure by now) and to Leon which hosts the biggest cathedral in Central America. This also was a fairly large town but not hugely impressive. A bit run down and seedy looking, with the obligatory central plaza with a cathedral at one end. We checked in to a really nice hotel and people went their separate ways; emailing, grabbing a coffee etc.

It was a Friday night and there were some sort of celebrations taking place in the streets as they were setting up stages in the plaza and everyone was excitedly running around. I found myself on my own in the internet cafe and as I was quietly writing a very noisy drumming band marched past the open doors of the cafe. I get very excited hearing this drumming get closer and closer so finished off my email extra quick, jumped up and followed the procession to the square.

By this time it was dusk and there was an electric storm threatening the skies above us. The sky went black, lightening flashed in the distance and the delicious smell of imminent rain filled the air. The band had stopped right outside the cathedral and were performing the most intoxicating and mesmerising pieces that lifted my spirits so high. I stood amongst the locals, all of us hot and sticky from the storm, smiling at the feeling of euphoria that the drums conjured up, not able to help our knees from bending to the rhythms and jigging about a bit. I was mesmerised by the drummers and by the audience, it was great.

Then I could see that the doors to the cathedral were open and there were lights on that gave the great white arches inside a warm inviting glow. With the thunder just about breaking and the drumming continuing on I walked into the cathedral, it was beautiful, very white but soft from the light, great big wooden doors to the side through which lightening was throwing itself into the building. There were a scattering of people sitting on the benches and a lone priest with a microphone at the gold covered alter trying to conduct a service and be heard over the thunder and the drums. I sat there and giggled at the ridiculous situation (sorry God, not laughing at you) and wondered in and out of the arches for a while.

Then happy and content that I had experienced a special something that no one else in the group had I took my smile and my memories back to the hotel. No sooner had I returned but the heavens opened. And I mean the heavens opened. Water was being swept out of our rooms and we just stood in our doorways with a bottle of beer messing about in the rain. I had a bee in my bonnet about going to eat at the Lebanese restaurant in town as I had heard they served Baba Ghanoush (traditionally an Egyptian dish made from grilled aubergine and mixed to a paste usually with cumin and lemon juice - first tasted on my trip to Egypt with my travelling Aunt Kate where we both fell in love with the dish).

So Jo, Andrew, Eric (the dutch) and I wore our shortest shorts, our rain coats and our flip flops and threw ourselves into the torrid storm, walking the streets with rain water gushing up to our shins. We made it the restaurant which was the most diabolical looking joint you have ever seen. We ordered much Baba Ghanoush, Humous, Shish Kebabs and a bottle of dodgy white wine.... What a disappointment the Baba Ghanoush was. It was gross and tasted far too burnt. I felt guilty having dragged them all out in the rain for this horrendous dish and they thoroughly enjoyed taking the piss out of me for it. But, the humous was fantastic as were the kebabs and we were all chuffed that we had braved the rainy streets for a bit of a laugh.

Thankfully, Andrew and I found a great Lebanese restaurant in Panama City last night and we ordered the real Baba Ghanoush, as did he, and we both fell in love with it. So my reputation for knowing good food is intact once more.

Our next stop was to Granada (the capital of Nicaragua I believe?) where we were to having a glorious three night stop with two whole days to fill. This was also our first volcano! The drive through Nicaragua was spectacular. I think in terms of countries in Central America I have fallen in love with that Guatemala and Nicaragua would have to be my favourite. The landscapes alone are most beautiful. Our first volcano stop was Masaya.

I have never seen a volcano in real life, let along walk up to the mouth of an active one and listen to it breathing. Itīs smoke smelt sort of sulphary and the gravel and dust on the ground was crunchy. We looked down into the mouth of the crater, huge in diameter, and managed to see a tiny little hole through which puffs of smoke would occasionally burst out. The sound was like listening to a sleeping dragon. Historically the locals called it "The Devilīs Mouth" because of the ominous sounds coming from the hole I guess they had no idea what was under the earth but it sounded angry.

There was a point on the hill from which they used to sacrifice people. Literally throwing them off the edge of the crater mouth into the earth so as to protect them from anything evil down there. Seeing and hearing the volcano for myself really helped me to appreciate how folklore stories start, how people would have been scared of sights and sounds that they did not have an explanation for. How the earth was so powerful.

Granada the town was very much like Antigua (in Guatemala - still my favourite town of the whole trip so far). A strong colonial Spanish influence but on a less grander scale. But the layout of the town is identical and I found myself wondering around thinking "the Rainbow Cafe is just around the corner, Iīll pop there for a drink" but then realising that was Antigua, not Grananda. Still it was great and we had another brilliant hotel with a courtyard full of ferns and a crazy monkey that would attack women as they walked past.

Some of us visited another volcano just above Granada called Mombacho. This involved taking an open truck ride up the side of the volcano. This was incredibly steep buy stunning all the way up. Tropical flowers of purples, pinks and reds living amongst palms and ferns (I wish I could identify all of them). Rows and rows of coffee plants so close that I could see the low bushes with the bean pods (donīt know the technical term) in abundance underneath the leaves. Banana trees are everywhere we go and I canīt remember the number of banana plantations we have driven through. Hundreds and hundreds of green bananas waiting to become ripe.

Once at the top we followed a trail which took us in and out paths flanked by tropical plants and in places opened up into the most fantastic view of Granada the town, alongside which is the vast Lake Nicaragua with itīs collection of 358 small islands along the shore all created by the volcanoīs last big eruption and the view of smoking Masaya volcano to the left. As panoramic views go this has to be one of my favourites.

The following day we took a little boat tour out to the island on Lake Nicaragua. They are only big enough for a house, a pool and some trees for a hammock to sit on it and are fairly close to each other, a bit like a village. But they are beautiful and I want one... because you can buy one for a minimum of $11,000!!! And they are for sale!!! A lot of them are owned by rich people from New York as holiday homes so some of them have built their own houses. They range from extravagant to ridiculous. Mine? A modest island with a wooden house and a hammock swinging outside. I could have my own boat and go and teach English in Granada.... One can but dream! Well, nice idea but I would get bored silly so I have decided against that idea!

Tuesday 4th November and we make a quick drive down the road to the ferry. Here we catch a boat to Isla Ometepe. A very small island which is one of the only places not to have been infiltrated by the Spanish when they invaded. So in this respect we are experiencing true Nicaraguan people and their culture. Island life is so different to mainland life in that there are more afro-caribbeans on the island so very quickly the people change, they look different and speak more English than Spanish.

We are here as some people are going to make a volcano hike. I decide I want to do something less strenuous seeing as I have just done two volcanos and Andrew, Kevin and I go exploring. He has heard about a natural fresh water spring somewhere in the jungle which is supposed to be stunning. In Spanish these are called Ojo Agua (water eye). We stride off in the 90 degree heat along a bumpy track. The locals on their tractors and mules find it more odd to see three white people in sarong and shorts walking along their road than we do about seeing them and we get lots of inquisitive stares. Besides there is nowhere to go and nothing to see having got a taxi to the other side of the island so they must have been wondering where we were going.

After about 2 miles we find the Ojo Agua sign and march off into a banana plantation (my first one I have walked through). It is like being in a miniature forest as the banana trees are not that tall but their oversized leafs (about half the size of me) create a canopy that surrounds us although it feels cool underneath there and is very light and green. Bananas hang from the trees and I realise that I always thought bananas hung down as they grew but they donīt, they grow upwards. Isnīt that strange?

Finally, after about another mile we come to some dark green trees where it suddenly getīs cooler and the light is dappled and there before us is a huge natural pool, crystal clear and looking like glass. We walk over a rickety wooden bridge and gaze down at the clearness of the water, the bottom visible, a greyish sand but nothing else. No rocks, no leaves, no fish, no nothing. Just a clear empty pool. We climb down into the water and let out the biggest ahhs as our over heated bodies feel the coolness of the spring. It feels cool, clean, fresh and well just perfect. We stayed in the water for ages and chatted, lay on our backs. Talk about a natural health farm.

Finally time to go as we were getting peckish so we pay the man a dollar each and set off back into the plantation with relaxed hearts and minds and contented smiles on our faces. But it is the kind of place you donīt really want anyone else to know about. We wanted to remain selfish about it as we had the place to ourselves and it was another little piece of paradise.

We spent the rest of the day sitting by the edge of the water (still on Lake Nicaragua - thatīs odd, it felt like the ocean but was a fresh water lake with lapping waves) drinking cold white wine and playing cards. The odd bit of fish soup served up or some deep fried cheese with salsa piquante...

We have a rude awakening the next day when we have to rise at 5am to catch a taxi across to the other side of the island to the ferry. Back to the mainland and then a drive into Costa Rica.
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