Central America 2005

March 2005

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Dustin and I had an excellent adventure trying to recapture our early twenties (at least the Central American road trip part of our twenties).  Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador were all nice.  My personal favorite was Nicaragua.  We saw beautiful scenery, and met wonderful people.

See the trip log below.

Click on the thumbnail images to enlarge

Playa Hermosa

Costa Rica

Fishermen at playa Hermosa

Note the dark water, which is a large school of fish. Costa Rica

Fishermen at playa Hermosa

Hauling out tuna (which had been feeding on the school of smaller fish) by the wheelbarrow full. Costa Rica

Dustin

Lamenting the loss in translation of "grilled cheese sandwich". He ended up with fried (in oil) cheese - yum yum. Costa Rica

Sunset at playa Hermosa

Costa Rica

Bus to the Nicaraguan boarder

No chickens, but plenty crowded. Costa Rica

Jake at the boarder

Enjoying a soda, Nicaragua

Grischa and Tina's van

On the ferry ride to Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Grischa and Tina's van

Tight fit on the ferry

Ferry view to Isla de Ometepe

Volcan Conception

Ferry view to Isla de Ometepe

Volcan Conception (left) and volcan Maderas (right)

In the lap of air conditioned luxury

Driving to playa Santa Domingo on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Tina, Grischa and Dustin

Enjoying playa Santa Domingo. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Volcan Maderas

From playa Santa Domingo. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Jake

With my head in a lake shark (now extinct) jaw. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Russian truck/bus

Isla de Ometepe public transportation, Nicaragua

Ox cart

Isla de Ometepe transportation, Nicaragua

Hand water pump

Rigged up to a bicycle. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Dustin

Saddeled up. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Petroglyph

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Petroglyphs

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Volcan Conception panorama

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Dustin

Swinging into a clear spring water pool. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Grischa

Swinging into a clear spring water pool. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Grischa and Tina

Enjoying the clear water spring pool. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Black sand beach

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Charco verde panorama

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Dustin

Ferry ride back to the mainland, Nicaragua

Granada market

Nicaragua

Granada market

Nicaragua

Granada

Panorama

View

Granada, Nicaragua

View

Granada, Nicaragua

View

Granada, Nicaragua

View

Granada, Nicaragua

Church

Granada, Nicaragua

Dustin gambling

Granada, Nicaragua

Horse carriage

Granada zocalo, Nicaragua

Street scene

Granada, Nicaragua

Joya de Ceren Mayan ruins

El Salvador

Joya de Ceren Mayan ruins

El Salvador

Joya de Ceren Mayan ruins

El Salvador

 

Central American 2005 trip log

As with all trips, words and photos never convey the total experience.  So it is with my trip to Nicaragua as well.

Dustin and I flew into Liberia Costa Rica (Northern Costa Rica).  Unfortunately my checked backpack didn't make the flight, although the first class seats for Dustin and I partially made up for this airline blunder.  We ended up waiting a day for the bag to arrive in relative luxury at a beautiful beach called playa Hermosa (recommended by the cab driver on the way to the beach from Liberia, we had originally wanted to stay at playa Coco, which as it turns out was much more crowded).  The big excitement at playa Hermosa was a large school of fish that skirted the beach for the better part of the day we were there.  Once the fish were spotted, locals came running from all corners with fishing poles in hand to try their luck at catching the large tuna that were feeding on the thousands of small fish making up the school.  Wheelbarrows full of tuna (literally) were carted off the beach by mid-day.

On the second morning we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to cross the boarder into Nicaragua.  The local buses were an inexpensive and entertaining way to make the two and a half hour trip.  Surprisingly enough the border formalities themselves were also painless, a few long lines and nominal fees later, and we were done.  Even the touts selling change, taxi's, and hotels were mellow.

Once in Nicaragua we took a bus to Rivas to exchange money (where we were headed, Isla de Omeptepe, there were no banks), and have lunch.  While eating lunch, we had the fortune to meet Grischa and Tina.  They were from Germany and on a 6 + month tour of Latin America.  The couple had flow into San Francisco from Munich, bought a 1991 Chevy conversion van, and driven it to Rivas Nicaragua to have lunch with us (seemingly).  Their plan was to continue driving south to Chile and get jobs (as Chile has the highest standard of living, and hence the highest paying jobs, in Latin America).  Coincidence would have it that they too were headed in the same direction as we were (Isla de Ometepe), so we decided to join them in the air conditioned splendor of their van for the trip.  After a half hour drive to San Jorge, a one hour ferry to Moyagapa, and a one hour drive on pot hole ridden dirt roads to playa Santa Domingo - we arrived in paradise.

The beach was as beautiful as it was deserted.  The hotel we stayed at was a bit "rustic", but what it lacked in first world dsl connections, it made up for in inexpensive rooms, food, beer, and a fantastic location.  There are very few places I've been with a better set up (Zipolite Mexico, the place I measure all of my beach experiences by, included).

The hotel allowed Grischa and Tina to plug their van in, enabling the plush creature comforts of refrigeration, air conditioning, lights, and range top stove to function seamlessly.  Dustin and I found a room to our liking and promptly ordered everyone a round of beer.  A great evening was had by all.

The next day Grischa, Tina, Dustin and I went on a horse back tour of petroglyph's dating back 3000 years, and a refreshing swim in a clear water spring.  The horses themselves were a bit of a nightmare, bolting every hundred yards, leaving everyone sore for days afterwards.  Let me first explain that I had been on a horse exactly once before in my life (at my uncle's), so I wouldn't say that I'm good on a horse.  It was all I could do to stay on the creature as it would, of its own accord, bolt at full steam down the roads, beaches, and narrow trails trying to catch up with its horse brethren.  Several times I feared for my life as I was about to get tossed at full gallop.  The horse would trot (bounce me up and down as if I were in a mogul field on my snowboard), slow gallop (where every thing seemed to glide effortlessly), quickly followed by a fast bolt (where I was progressively bounced further and further out of the saddle, until I was finally holding on the saddle itself with both hands as to not be thrown - cursing the beast as it literally took me for a ride).  Catherine (my horse) and I finally came to an "understanding" where we would trot at a reasonable pace, and not a half step more . . . dammed horse.

The petroglyph's were a bit anti climatic after the harrowing horse ride, but the clear water spring was something else altogether.  The spring was set in a banana plantation (the water was used for irrigation), but immediately surrounding the pool was an old growth jungle.  Gigantic trees provided shade to the crystal clear water.  Apparently the pool was a bit of an attraction for occasional tourists like us, justifying a guard to collect the exorbitant fee of $1 (yea right, exorbitant fee).  The guard must have had the best job on the plantation, and maybe even the island.  His work environment was a beautiful setting (for those of you who have spent time on the McKenzie River - think Tamolitch dry falls), in a shaded, cool pool of water . . . believe me, there were many worse jobs to have.  After he had shown us where the spring was filling the pool, he reveled a tree swing, promptly busting out a perfect back flip (he obviously prided his work).  This provided us with plenty of excitement for the next hour.  Our guide wanted to show us more petroglyph's, but once we realized it would require a hot muggy horse ride, we decide to stay put.  After returning back to the hotel, another great evening was had by all.

The next day Grischa and Tina drove us to Charco verde, a lagoon/nature preserve on the far side of the island.  We saw black sand beaches (from an eruption of one of the two volcanos on the island), tons of bird life, and even a group a monkeys hanging out in the jungle canopy.  Dustin and I said goodbye to Grischa and Tina, as they were heading back to mainland Nicaragua and then Costa Rica. 

We chicken bused it back to our hotel, realizing what a great fortune we had in meeting Grischa and Tina.  Their van had provided us transportation on demand for the last several days on the island, and we now realized how little public transportation there was in this desperately poor place.  Local people were living out of make shift huts . . . no water, no toilet, no electricity.  It made our $25 a night air conditioned room with a bathroom seem extravagant.  There were two buses on the island, each on a separate route . . . they drove by the same place every couple of hours, meaning it took the better part of a day to get anywhere.  The buses were beat up, loud (both from the lack of muffler and blaring music), over crowded (but everyone seemed happy to not be walking) and were ridiculously inexpensive.  Many locals on the island (and all of Nicaragua for that matter) relied on livestock for transportation, many more than I expected.  Horses and oxen were the main staples (it is always odd to see someone saddled up on an ox).  Both were also used with make shift carriages/trailers that were hand crafted out of wood, and used a car axles/wheels/leaf springs in ingenious ways.  It really made me appreciate what we have back home.

The following day Dustin and I taxied, ferried, and bused our way to Granada Nicaragua.  After a long muggy day, we promptly checked ourselves into one of the nicer hotels in town, on the West side of the zocalo.  Enjoying an extended nap, we later took a short walk of the surrounding area, we had dinner at a hostel. 

I guess I'm getting old, because when I saw the cramped bunk beds in stagnant aired hot muggy rooms at the hostel, I was glad to be spending the extra $19 a night for air conditioning and a private bath.  Not that Dustin and I didn't have a wonderful time chatting it up with the "dirt backpackers", who after several months on the Central American tour, "only had another month and a half left".  It is always startling to see oneself at an earlier stage in ones life, and shake your head thinking "I can't believe I used to be that way".  Not that it is bad to be a "dirt back packer" (I look back at my experiences with fondness), but I'm positive that I am not capable of that level of travel (at least for months on end) at this stage in my life.

Granada was a very nice Spanish colonial town, which reminded me a bit of Antigua Guatemala with fewer tourists (not to say that there isn't tour buses full of 65 year old Germans in Granada).  The churches, museums, zocalo, and market were all well worth the visit.  The highlight of Granada in my opinion was a climb up a church bell tower affording views of the historic downtown.  The church was almost empty, so there was no one to ask if we could open the unlocked gate to enter the bell tower.  Dustin, who was raised God fearing, was afraid to enter the "holy ground" of the bell tower without permission (this from a guy who used to routinely bypass security guards in a quest to get on tall building roofs in downtown Portland).  After the first tentative steps up the M.C. Escher like stair case, we continued up to the bell tower without Gods wrath.  The views of town were stunning, and better yet, there was a nice breeze to cut the muggy air.  It must have been the top of the hour, as the bells started ringing, or should I say gonging at a gazillion decibels, causing me to nearly jump off of the tower from surprise and fright.  Yes indeed, God has a vengeful sense of humor.  After the blaring noise subsided we looked at each other in disbelief, and broke into laughter.  Once the laughter calmed down, we cleaned our shorts, and then were able to enjoy the view for another 15 minutes or so, taking a round of photos, and pointing out landmarks.

The following afternoon we left on a bus towards Managua via the market town of Masaya.  Masaya's market was huge, with something for everyone, locals and tourists alike.  We spent about an hour wandering aimlessly and purchasing gifts for Sierra and Cooper. 

The bus ride to Managua was uneventful, as was the cab ride to our hotel.  As we had an early morning flight scheduled to San Salvador the next morning, we had a mellow evening drinking beers and chatting with other tourists at the hotel restaurant.  One of the tourists was a 62 year old retired character from Hawaii named Wayne.  Wayne had worked for the Peace Corps in 1964 - 1966 in Columbia, and had spent the rest of his life "trying to recreate the feeling of being in Columbia at that time, P.C." or "pre cocaine" as he called it.  Apparently Columbia was a veritable paradise until the drug lords took over, causing the social unrest of today.  It was from Wayne that I copied the phrase "trying to recapture my twenties".  Wayne had done a bunch of internet research over the last couple of years in preparation for retirement, trying to find a place to make his Social Security checks go further.  After a long deliberation, he had decided on Nicaragua.  The problem was, that after two months exploring the country for a place to settle down, he had decided that he didn't like Nicaragua.  It "sounded better on paper than the reality of living here" he said.  So, he had checked into this hotel in Managua to come up with a new plan, and a new country, to retire.  He was quite a character in an old hippy kind of way.

The next morning Dustin and I woke up at the crack of dawn to fly to San Salvador (a necessary requirement, as Delta doesn't fly out of Nicaragua).  After arriving in El Salvador, clearing customs, and checking into a hotel, we decided to hire a cab and see the Mayan ruin of Joya de Ceren.  Joya de Ceren is called the Pompeii of the America's, as it is a 1400 year old Mayan village that was preserved in ash from a nearby volcano.  In the attached museum there was corn, beans, wood, and even woven cloth that had all been frozen in time under feet of ash 1400 years ago.  The ruins themselves were "under whelming", especially when compared to the other Mayan ruins of Palenque, Tikal or Copan.

The most startling thing about El Salvador to me was the number of guns and comparative wealth to other Central American countries.  The guns were huge.  Pistol gripped 12 gauge shotguns, M 1's, M 16's, and everyone had a 9mm sidearm.  All of this to protect an Applebee's like restaurant, or a Shell gas station, or a convenience store, or a Pepsi truck . . . it seemed a bit excessive. 

The comparative wealth was shown in the lack of beast of burden transportation.  I didn't see one horse or ox on my short stay in San Salvador.  There were malls, tons of malls.  Mini malls, shopping malls, and Kentucky Fried Chicken's.  It reminded me a bit of southern California (or anywhere in suburban USA).  Even the official currency was the US dollar.  I have never been to another country that didn't have their own national currency.  Many places will accept US dollars (in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Argentina they are actually preferred to the local currency), but no country that I'm aware of - other than El Salvador - will accept US coins.  Coins usually "die" when they leave their country of origin.  Local currency is generally given out as change, but El Salvador has no local currency.  All goods and services are priced in US dollars, and all change is given in US dollars and coins.

So, after an early "re-entry" into the "real world" of sorts in San Salvador, we left for home the next day.  Dustin and I had had a good trip.  Although we were unable to "recreate our twenties", we had seen some amazing places with interesting cultures and histories.  As always, the sight of the Delta plane/crew made us feel as if we had already cleared customs back in the USA.

 

Travel links

Trips from the last two years    Interactive travel map

 


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