Thursday, 31 March 2011

Golden rules are there for a reason


After 3 nights of A/C coolness it was time to leave San Juan and cross another border. The local bus dropped me off on the Pan American highway and after a short wait another bus came along and took me to the frontier.

The border was a “land of confusion” with people everywhere trying to get you to buy a bus ticket or attempting to sell you the paperwork you needed to give the immigration staff. I ignored them all, well until I got to the immigration building. Once the paperwork was completed and my passport had an exit stamp I ignored all the bus touts once again and walk over the border. By the time I got to the Costa Rican side I was a little bit hot and sweaty.

The formalities were over very quickly and after a 30 minute wait the bus to Liberia pulled out of its parking spot. The windows were large and they opened up all the way, which was fantastic. For the 1st couple of miles the other side of the road was full of lorries, all parked up waiting to cross the border. This meant that any other traffic, like cars, had to travel on our side of the road....

A few hours later I was in Liberia and was walking the 500m to the bus station for the local buses. I decided to get some money out of an atm. Normally I am pretty good at getting used to the local currency, apart from when there are lots of noughts on the end. I had wanted to get C$200000 out but I missed out a nought and only got C$20000 or £25. so I tried again only to be informed by the machine that I had insufficient funds?????

I decided that I would try again once I got to Playa Del Coco.

Playa del Coco is a place I have been to before. Back in 2004 I spent a month there hanging out, diving, and drinking in one of the best bars I've ever been in.

As the bus rode into town I noticed some big changes, like the shopping malls, the large condo development and the new banks and supermarkets. I got a room in the same hotel I used last time and for C$56000 a week I got a good room which now had a sea view (because all the beach shacks were now gone). As I needed to pay for the room I went to the bank to get some money out...only I wasn't able to....I still had insufficient funds?

(Going online I discovered two $200 withdrawals had been made that day but not by me. Turns out my card had been cloned and was being used in Panama (and then later on in Peru). The end result was my card was cancelled, I'm glad I still had my credit card. My bank were on the ball with this one and when I had talked with the fraud department on Monday they refunded me the money fraudulently taken out of my account.)

The next day was Friday and after a cash advance on my credit card I had money....and the Vida Loca bar had beer!!!

Golden rule number 19: never go back to a place where you had a great time because it will never be as good.

Sadly I was the only customer......Damn!!!!

Luckily there are other bars in this small beach town and the weekend was spent checking them out.

On Tuesday I went diving, the water was bloody cold (which was actually really nice) but the visibility was terrible and it was really hard to see anything that wasn't right in front of you.

After spending a week here I've decided to spend another week here. That way when Semana Santa comes around and all the Tico's head to the beach I'll be in the mountains.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

On Google earth it’s yellow


Right now it's an early afternoon in the last days of March. I'm hanging out in the town of San Juan del Sur. Its a small little surf town near the border of Costa Rica. Like the Vietcong I don't surf, so its a case of hanging out, relaxing and enjoying the A/C in my expensive hotel room. I really need a break from being moist whilst I sleep.

It also gives me a chance to catch up on what I've been doing....basically nothing at all!!!

I spent several nights in Leon for no other reason than the hostel had nice hammocks. Although the art museum is well worth a visit. From Leon I took a chicken bus via the capital to the colonial city of Granada on the shores of lake Nicaragua. The hammocks in the hostel were even nicer than the ones at Leon!

In Granada there are lots of things to do and see....apparently

After several nights in Granada I moved on to the island of Ometepe. The island is basically two volcanoes linked together by an isthmus. The ferry crossing took around an hour and as the wind was blowing hard, the swell was up and the small heavily loaded boat pitched and rolled and not everyone had sea legs! Once the boat was close to the island the larger volcano blocked out the wind and the waves were gone.

The hotel were I stayed had fantastic hammocks!!!

I did manage to get out of them for a day's travel around the island by motorbike. I didn't see too much of the southern part as the road conditions were terrible....and buses use them...amazing.

Tomorrow I'll be getting on yet another bus and heading to and across the border into Costa Rica.

But right now its time for another ice cold beer!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Heading towards a hitman


The small slightly charming but quiet town of Somoto lies about 20kms from the border. Once the taxi dropped me off in the centre of town I made my way to the Pan American hotel. The room was basic and cheap but the monkeys in the courtyard were fun to watch and the two cats and one dog were super friendly.

The reason people come here is to visit the nearby canyon and the hotel runs a tour there for about £10 so I signed up for the following day.

That evening I wandered around the centre of town, noting how much the locals love their fruit machines, amazing myself with my own stupidity when it came to finding the only atm in town and discovering that the local beer called “Tona” was really rather refreshing.

In the morning I had my usual breakfast with monkeys, cats and a dog and then I got ready for the tour. There were five other people coming along, a middle aged Czech couple, two Belgium lasses enjoying a weekend away from a N.G,O in the capital and a Swedish lass who had the same 1st name as my favourite Portuguese singer.

It was a short ride in the taxi back towards the border and soon we were walking along a dirt path up and over a steep rise (which I did slowly) before plunging downhill to the river and the start of the canyon adventure. In this part of central America its the middle of the dry season so the flow of the river is slow and apart from the well'ard trees everything else is brown and dormant. Its also hot but the river was cold.

When we reached the banks of the river we walked across rocks and pebbles for 100m and then it was time to get wet. With our life jackets on our feet got wet and slowly the water level rose till with a chilly shudder the water was waist deep. The canyon is up to 100 metres deep and narrow. In many places the river was less than 10 ft wide. We continued walking/swimming/floating downstream...I preferred the floating!

After a while we came to an abrupt turn in the canyon with a waterfall the rivers only means of escape. Climbing out and up onto a large area of rock and grit we basked in the small section of sunlight till our cold bodies had warmed up. To get back into the water was easy, all you had to do was jump!

In this section of canyon the water was deep and the canyon walls slowly got further apart. Before long I was in bright sunshine and I was glad I was wearing my sunglasses.

Eventually the floating was over and after a short boat ride we were back on dry land with a one mile walk back to the road and a waiting minibus.

The next morning I walked to the nearby bus station and waited for a bus to the town of Esteli. By 11:30 I was at the bus station in Esteli, wondering where to go. After a two hour wait a bus for Jinotega showed up...that was good enough for me. The bus went via the back roads, the long climbs up the mountains tortured the engine and the descents made the brakes squeal. Three hours later I was in Jinotega, a small town surrounded on three sides by steep jagged mountainous ridges. There's not much to do in the town but it was a nice place to spend an evening.

The following morning it was a 30km bus ride to Matagalpa, it took over two hours. The mountain roads were long and steep but the views were fantastic. Arriving in Matagalpa I got a room in a hostel halfway down the main road in-between the two central squares. I checked out the local tour company to see what was on offer but it turns out because Matagalpa is slap bang in the middle of the highlands every tour involved at least a three hour hike. As beautiful as the mountains and cloud forests are they were also bloody steep. My left ankle doesn't do steep any more so sadly I had to decline their enthusiastic offers...bugger!

I spent two nights in this town, the second night I came across Woody's bar and grill. That put a smile on my face and ice cold beer in my belly.

The next day I walked to the bus station for transportation to the city of Leon. I was joyfully surprised to discover it was a minibus. Less than two and half hours later I was in Leon. Looking in the guide book I choose a hostel and took a taxi there. The room was basic (shared bath) and it only cost C$445 a night. What the f......???? The last two places I stayed in cost C$260 and C$300 an night and both were en-suite with cable tv. (there are about C$35 to £1)

However it was hot and the hostel did have a pool, hammocks and free what the hell!

I found the town of Leon to be somewhat of a slight disappointment. Its nice enough but it ain't no Antigua.

It is now Friday morning and I was going to be leaving this morning. Turns out I can't be arsed. There is always maƱana and I'm spending the morning watching BBC world news on my laptop reporting from Japan and the devastating earthquake.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

To the border


I left the hotel bright and early with my new rucksack upon my back. Everything fitted into it apart from my cane and my trainers. It was time to let the cane go and as for my trainers....even with my limited sense of smell they were beyond saving. Besides, having 3 pairs of shoes is excessive.

I got a taxi to the bus station and waited an hour for the bus to leave. My destination for the day was the town of Choluteca, near the Gulf of Fonseca and the pacific coast. It only took about 4 hours of travelling in a nice air conditioned bus to get there and I got dropped off at the edge of town. I took a taxi to the centre, because it's damn hot in this part of the country, and then found a coffee shop for a caffeine fix and to look in the guide book for a hotel.

Not really knowing what part of town I was in a got another taxi to my hotel of choice only to find that according to the taxi driver it didn't exist (can't say I was that guide book is just like me, loads of faults and infuriatingly inconsistent). He took me to another hotel, which was full and then I decided to walk back towards the centre of town in search of a hotel. Guess what, I found one just about 100m from the coffee shop! It wasn't the best hotel or the cheapest but I didn't care.

The next day it was time to leave Honduras and head to the Nicaraguan border. I choose to cross the border at El Espino and I got a bus to the nearby town of San Marcos before waiting over an hour for a minibus to the border. The minibus was a 12 seater but the driver managed to squeeze in 23 people. Thankfully it was only 10kms to the border!!

The border crossing was easy, simple and straight forward but I did get ripped off by a money changer.....not that surprising really!!

Once in Nicaragua I got a taxi to the nearby town of Somoto.