Thursday, May 5, 2016

Four Wheelin' On The Island Of Ometepe......Nicaragua

Our adventure in Nicaragua continues as we headed out to see another must-see, the Island of Ometepe. One of the largest freshwater islands in the world Ometepe island was developed from two volcanos rising up from the lake many years ago.  The two volcanos Concepcion and Maderas are joined by a piece of land in the shape of an hourglass.  The island is nineteen miles long and just six miles wide and might just have more pigs, cows and horses than people, or so it seemed to us.

While there are many myths about Ometepe one of the most memorable is the one about two young lovers from opposing families.  This Romeo and Juliet type of story ends badly when the two lovers each slit their wrists since they can't be together.  As she's dying and falls back her chest rises up and forms the two volcanos that represent the two hills of the island. In the native language the word "Ometepe" simply means, "two hills," or perhaps two boobs in the case of the myth?

First we had to pack a bag and head out by foot very early in the morning on Monday to the bus station here in Granada. Although Granada isn't all that big it boasts of having four or five bus stations, or they're called.  The one we had to get to was smack in the middle of a busy, congested marketplace full of bikes, cars, and pedestrians so trying not to get run over was a tricky. With buses pulling out and barely scraping by the nearby vendor stands it's quite a sight to witness.  The so called bus station that looks more like a parking lot with a few buses in it is a congested mess.  On the streets nearby local vendors were setting up their stands selling prepared foods, produce, clothing and just about anything else one might need.

We boarded a "chicken bus" for the town of Rivas which is where our journey would begin.  Although I'm not sure why they call them chicken buses it's either because you can't be chicken to ride 'em, or maybe because there are sometimes chickens riding on the buses.  Since we boarded the bus at the station we managed to get seats but still had to wait a while as the bus filled up. Even though it was early in the day it was hot inside the bus and before long we started to glisten with sweat. 

The bus driver seemed to change personalities along the way as he went from driving like a bat out of hell to driving like the little old lady from Pasadena.  Eventually after an hour or more of sweating we landed in the town of Rivas.  While still on the bus several pushy men came aboard targeting gringos, there was only one other couple besides us, offering us taxi rides. He suggested that we share a taxi to keep the cost down and while we were all for that the other couple seemed to have other ideas.  Once off the bus the pushy taxi driver suggested we stop to shop at the local kiosks.  Being the impatient type that we are we declined shopping, decided not to look for other gringos to share the taxi with and asked the taxi driver to just take us to the port already.

So we climbed into yet another dumpy, dirty taxi, with torn seats, no air conditioning, windows rolled down and headed from the town of San Jorge to the port for the ferry. While we've been on ferries in Texas that were clean, organized and well kept this was not the case here in Nicaragua. We were approached by yet another pushy man who guided us to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets.  Then he asked us where we'd be staying on the island and when Clyde mentioned that we had no reservations yet, the man insisted that it was very important that we reserve a room NOW.  He asked if we wanted to stay in town or near the beach and offered to make the reservation for us.  We opted for a room in town so he quickly phoned a hotel and offered us a rate of $25 for a private room with a private bath.  When we requested one with an air conditioner the price went up to $35 which we were fine with, at least being able to cool off after a day of sweating.

Our Ferry Awaits

Follow The Crowd

Once on board the ferry we found ourselves in a room in the bowels of the boat full of rows of metal seating. We found a seat before they were all taken since we'd be on the boat for an hour or more of slow travel before we reached the island. Oddly enough there was a tiny television screen showing a movie, a sort of Latin version of a dirty dancing type of movie.  While I was silly enough to expect a place to buy drinks and food onboard, I was lucky enough to find a teeny, filthy bathroom.  The three level ferry did offer seating on the top outer deck, but we figured it would have been even hotter up there since it offered no shade from the hot, morning sun.

Inside The Bowles Of The Ferry

A Volcano In The Distance

Eventually we made our way off of the ferry to find more pushy taxi drivers offering to take money from tourists.  When one driver asked our hotel name and we said, "Los Ranchitos" he kindly told us it was only a short walk of three blocks away. The front of Los Ranchitos was cute with a restaurant made of bamboo, a pressed dirt floor all decorated in island style. In the back near the garden were the hotel rooms which were very basic but would serve the purpose for just one night.

Los Ranchitos Restaurant

Cool D├ęcor.....A Tree Trunk Made Of Cement With Bottles Stuck Into It

A Pressed Mud Floor

We checked in and dropped our backpacks off before heading out to explore the island.  Too big to explore by foot there were plenty of places offering to rent scooters, motor bikes and quads to go exploring.  Since neither of us has ever driven a motorcycle we were unsure about the idea of renting one.  Add to that the fact that Clyde didn't bring his drivers license with him from Panama so I thought that I'd have to do the driving. The safer option was to rent a quad or four wheeler that couldn't be tipped over and was safe for exploring the back roads.  And according to the woman that rented us the quad, it was no problem that Clyde would be doing with driving without a drivers license in his pocket.  The vehicle was registered in my name using my license and when asked what to do if we were stopped by police she said, "just say you switched out drivers and it will be ok." So off we went exploring the island with the help of a map given to us by the rental agency.

Click on the link below to check out
a video we did of our Quad ride on Ometepe

Our journey began in the town of Moyogalpa, the largest village on the island. From there we headed out along the "Route of Volcanos," which could be seen from most everywhere.  We followed along the winding road that passed in between the two volcanos. Volcan Concepcion is still active while Volcan Maderas is considered to be extinct. Yet active or not both volcanos have trails leading to the summit for those brave enough for the undertaking. But hiking these suckers is not easy in the scorching heat for a duration of ten hours round trip, so not something we wanted to do.

As our noisy quad made its way along the road we made our way past quaint little farms, homes, churches and more. Several times along the way we encountered Nicaraguan road blocks consisting of cows, horses and pigs in the road.  We stopped at Ojo de Agua, a natural swimming pool of crystal clear water fed from a local spring.  A nearby sign billed this place as, "Fuente de la Juventud," or "The Fountain Of Youth," so I made sure to splash some water on myself before leaving.

Ometepe is said to have the largest concentration of petroglyphs or ancient stone carvings in the world so we kept our eyes open to find some.  A sign lead us up a rocky road into an area with plenty of petroglyphs to view.  There are nearly 1700 of these ancient carvings on rocks in the area, some more intricate than others.

The scenery around Ometepe was just lovely and resembled the country side of Panama in many ways. Before returning to Moyogalpa we drove through the second largest town on the island called Altagracia.  This picturesque little farming village was represented by religious statues along the roadside.  We returned the quad by 6pm and went back to our room to relax and freshen up a bit before heading out to dinner.

For dinner we chose an Italian restaurant where we dined on pizza. A single female diner sat alone at the next table so my friendly husband began chatting and eventually invited her over.  An elderly woman from Luxembourg was visiting Nicaragua working for a non-government organization.  The goal of her organization was to go into the schools and educate young girls helping them to realize there are options for them in life.  Since young girls in poor Latin American countries tend to think their mission in life is to make babies, organizations like this serve to educate the young ladies as to other choices. And Nicaragua is one of only five countries in the world where abortion is illegal regardless of the circumstances, even in the case of rape or life threatening illness.

Tired from a long day of adventures last evening we retired early for a long peaceful night of sleep.  All was well until the wee hours of the morning when a cacophony of thousands of birds began singing outside our hotel window.  It literally sounded like something out of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds," and had us wide awake an annoyed at 5am.

Today after breakfast we headed to the port by foot and made our way to the ferry for our long journey back to Granada.  We watched as the ferry's crew attempted to get a large bus onto the ship without it bottoming out on the deck. Since it was overcast and not sunny we headed up onto the top deck to enjoy the views and breezes. There we chatted with two 30 something twin brothers from Germany who take a yearly vacation together.  Nearby we watched as a young, backpacker type mended his badly bruised arm that was covered with road rash.  Apparently he had rented a motorbike on the island and got into an accident with it, throwing himself and the bike onto the road. While he had to pay for the damages at least he wasn't seriously injured. While he appeared to be just another tourist it turned out he's living here in Granada teaching English on a volunteer basis for a month or so. A native of Belgium we chatted with him about the state of Nicaraguan kids. He said that volunteers like himself were told about the glue sniffing boys on the streets and instructed not to help them out.  Apparently these boys chose to drop out of school and live on the streets thinking it will be an easier life where they can do as they please.  Instead if they would stay in school they would be provided with meals along with an education, but would have to abide by the rules also.

Putting Cars And Trucks Onto The Ferry

And Now The Bus

Ouch....Scraping Bottom
Another Volcano View

In our travels we've met people from all over the world all with different ideas and styles of travel.  During a stop on our four wheelin' trek we stopped for a drink at a roadside restaurant with a hotel on the beach.  We chatted with a husband and wife from Australia, both retired school teachers who were literally backpacking through Latin America.  While this is usually something done by young folks on a small budget these professionals were doing it the same way.  They were staying in dorm rooms at hostels full of beds with shared bathrooms, taking buses and carrying their luggage on their backs.

From the ferry today we opted to splurge on a private taxi from the town of San Jorge all the way to our hotel in Granada.  The 90-minute ride was comfy, fully air conditioned and a great way to see the scenery along the way.  With the start of the rainy season here the landscape is quickly changing from burnt brown to a lovely shade of lush green. After resting up a bit we walked to a large grocery store and decided to stay in tonight and cook dinner.

Surely after partaking in the fountain of youth I'll wake up looking twenty years younger tomorrow and perhaps I'll have to change the name of this blog to, The Old Guy and His Young Wife Travelling......along the gringo trail.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Adventure Continues To Leon, Nicaragua.....

Another long day here in Nicaragua that began at 6am in the city of Leon and ended with margaritas and new friends in Granada.  It was a cool 7 am yesterday when we left our apartment and made our way to the bus station.  We boarded a bus for Managua, an hour bus ride that would leave us at a rather crazy, busy bus station.  Before I really had time to look around we were herded like cattle onto another bus headed to Leon. The tiny van-like bus was better than the first way over crowded larger bus where we were smooshed by strange butts, boobs of sweaty Nicas standing in the aisles.  We exited the bus in yet another bus station where young men were literally in our faces trying to sell us tours of the city.  Once we escaped the vendors we found a taxi to take us to a nearby hotel to see if they had a room for the night. 

The cozy B&B called Paz de Luna was recommended to us by our friends Pat and Rich who stayed there in the past.  Since I'm rather picky I insisted on a private room with a private bath along with air conditioning as a way to escape the tropical heat.  The city of Leon is said to be even HOTTER than Granada, so a/c was not an option.  Our lovely room was located off an interior garden area for around $50 for the night, which included breakfast. We were asked to wait a few minutes while they gave the room a once over cleaning so we sat in the little restaurant. Since we'd been up since the crack of dawn I was hungry and ordered some fruit, yogurt and granola with coffee for a healthy late breakfast.  Clyde on the other hand opted for a piece of cake to go with his coffee as we waited for our room to be finished.

Our Hotel

Entrance To Hotel & Restaurant

Courtyard & Garden

A Fat Or Pregnant Cat

Fountain In The Court Yard

Leon is one of the oldest cities in Latin America and full of old buildings, churches and parks just waiting for tourists.  A city larger than Granada we made our way around by foot until we were drenched in sweat and tired.  Eventually we hailed down a taxi to take us to a cathedral and from there managed to find many of the other historical buildings.  We stopped into a museum of the revolution where a former soldier gave us a tour, all in Spanish of course.  He proudly told us about the history of his country and the war as we dripped in sweat inside the old building that lacked airflow.  But eventually we followed him to the roof of the old building where he lead us onto the old tin roof for a fantastic view of the city.  All I could think was how this would never happen in the US without a law suit.  The roof was creaky and didn't feel safe yet we followed the man to the edge of the roof to have a look around.

Old Churches In Leon

Leon Means Lion In Spanish.....Plenty Of Lions Around

Another Church

And More..........

A Hot, Tired Tourist Named Terry Sitting On The Corner
This Building Is Where Dictator Somoza Lived And Overthrown

Our Museum Tour Guide Who Took Part In The 1979 Uprising
 That Brought Democracy Back To Nicaragua

To The Upper Level Of The Old Mansion

Here We Are On The Old Roof

Old Tin Roof

Doesn't Look Too Safe?  Well It Didn't Feel Too Safe!

A Grand Old Stair Case 

After walking around all day it was time for a well needed cold shower and a rest back in our hotel.  Later that evening we had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Porky's were we chatted with two young men from Switzerland. A bottle of Ron de Cana, the local rum along with some cokes helped the food go down and the conversation flow smoothly. Today we woke up early as we decided to splurge for our trip back to Granada. Instead of taking two buses we opted to take the air conditioned shuttle from our hotel for a price of $30. During the three and a half hour trek we chatted with a young lady from Paris who was visiting Nicaragua. Also in the van were three young people from Australia who were backpacking through Latin America.

We made it back to Granada by afternoon and later met up with some fellow house sitters for drinks.  Four hours later we ended our conversation with them and stopped at yet another Nicaraguan Mexican restaurant for a cheap burrito.  For less than $4 we each enjoyed a chicken burrito as we chatted with other patrons of the tiny restaurant.  Two young men from England sat nearby telling us about their adventures as we told them about ours.

Granada is truly a mix of people from all over the world who are either living here, travelling through or visiting friends as we are. Time to end another long day of adventures with a cool shower and a dip in the pool here in Granada, Nicaragua.......along the gringo trail.,_Nicaragua

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Party On Lake Nicaragua......And More

To beat the heat and enjoy some time chillin with our friends, we hopped on a bus that would take us to a party boat on the lake.  For just $10 per person we spent the day on a large party pontoon boat, complete with booze, food and music.  We floated the day away chatting with old friends and making new ones, arriving back on shore by four in the afternoon, tired for a day of too much fun.

Transportation to our Party Boat

Party Boat

View Of Volcano

Tiny Islands Called Isletas

Houses On Some Of The Isletas

Pat, Rich and Terry

Lunch is here
While floating and chatting to a Canadian woman about Panama a small boat pulled up to ours to deliver fresh tilapia for lunch. Excited and hungry we climbed back onto the boat to order lunch. But as soon as the fish was safely delivered aboard to the boat crew, the fisherman passed out drunk in the small boat. Everyone watched and laughed as the boat began to drift away from the larger one while people yelled trying to wake up the drunken fisherman.

The next day was spent roaming around the city of Granada taking in the sights and sounds.  Clyde and I boarded a horse drawn buggy for a one hour tour around the town. Our guide used his best English to tell us about the historic sights of the city. 

Party in the Park

Her Royal Coach Awaits



Next stop was a visit to Mombacho Cigar Factory for a tour.  Nicaragua is second in the world to Cuba for it's production of some of the finest cigars in the world.  While admittedly I have absolutely no interest in cigars, learning how they are made was rather fascinating. While the tour of the small factory was interesting the smell of tobacco and nicotine was overwhelming, especially inside the humidor and other small rooms. 

Sorting by color

Drying The Tobacco Leaves

An Employee Rolling A Cigar

Our Guide

Storage room

We popped into a small museum that featured pre-Colombian pottery and were given a private tour by its gringo owner named Geoff. The owner and his wife are both archaeologists from the states who have been living in Canada for many years. They have been coming here to Nicaragua for the past many years for digs and research. During one visit he was told about a local collection of pottery purchased by a rich gringo that had passed away.  To make a long story short Geoff and his wife ended up managing the museum and will soon be moving here to make it their own. What a wonderful opportunity for them to be able to follow their passion in retirement and also bring something so interesting to the community of Granada.

Cooking Pot later used as Burial Urn

Pre Colombian Pottery
Made Before Columbus Came To Central America

Today we took a bus ride to the famous Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.  Basically a large lake set in the caldera of two extinct volcanos, we enjoyed another relaxing day of floating in the water.  Lake Apoyo is said to be over 23,000 years old so it's safe to assume that the volcanos are really extinct, at least they were today. This popular tourist attraction is home to a variety of animals and plant life with a nearby hostel, restaurant, bar and plenty of family entertainment.

Granada is home to many wannabe Mexican restaurants offering up their version of food. Tonight we had some burritos at Taco Stop as we dined outside people watching.  Just as we finished up our meals a young man approached us and pointed at our trays.  Apparently he was looking for food scraps and since he refused to leave we let him take them.  Immediately he sat down on a nearby step to rummage through our few scraps of food.  We left the table soon after and headed back to our apartment sad to think about what we had just experienced. Travel is both fascinating and eye opening as we explore the world one country at a time, learning about other cultures along the way.

While Granada is a lovely Colonial village full of tourists it's also home to many poor Nica's just trying to live their lives.  Yet what the Nica's lack in material things they make up for in friendliness, as they open their arms to tourists and foreigners alike who fall in love with their simple country.  Some of those foreigners like our friends Pat and Rich have decided to call this place home, enjoying the benefits of an early, more affordable retirement paving their own way.........along the gringo trail.