Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nicaragua - Paradise (and future home?) Found

Sunset in Granada
It has been nigh on 4 weeks since we made the trip north from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, and travelling with company made it hard to break away for serious internet time. I will do my best to recollect...

If you're ever Costa Rica bound, take note, it´s annoying trying to figure out where all different bus stops to wherever are in San Jose. After a dammed confusing time trying to find the Tica bus station we found ourselves winging our way through the Costa Rican rain to sunny Nicaragua. All was well, Darren had made some damn fine sandwhiches and I was really enjoying the pulpy romance novel I´d picked up at Casa Hilda (a small guesthouse in SJ run by a lovely man who will be forever affectionately recollected as ´Senior´by the four of us. He is an angel). At dusk we hit the border. The crossing was keystone kop efficient without the laughs. I still don´t really know what we actually did. Oh, except the standing around clueless part, I got that. But the best part? Oh yeah, that was when the Tica bus attendant came back on the bus and asked for "Anna Breared" whereupon he solemnly told me that because there was a (tiny) riped corner on one page of my passport, I could not enter Nicaragua (nor Honduras, El Salvador, etc.) "It is la ley". D and I accompanied him to the immigration officewhere after a back and forth with an official and my suprisingly coherent entreaty in Spanish that I was only going to be in Nicaragua for one or two weeks, I was ok'd. As we walked across the rainy tarmac the dodgy Tica bus guy casually extorted $5 from us to pay for the photocopying of my passport. Pffft. Whatever. Drama over.

Darren's artistic attempt at photographing a quaint Granadian doorway hijacked by Anna's photobomb
Fastforward. Granada. A profusion of brightly painted walls where gorgeous compounds and households hideaway behind, every now and again the doorways opening to offer us a glimpse of four handmade wicker rocking chairs arranged around a small table, accomodating a genteel way to while away some time in companionable comfort. We stayed at Hostel Oasis which had a fabulous swimming pool and hammocks strung around the courtyard garden. It gave us cool respite from the much warmer temps and, hooray, sunshine!

Darren ready for a beer

We spent 3 days here - took a lazy boat tour of Las Isletas (tiny islands right off the shore of lake Nicaragua), visited the museum (Megan was most taken with the collection of ancient petroglyphs), climbed the bell tower of a church ("best view in Granada") and every day culminated with a beer underneath the magnificient sky patchworked sometimes with the glory of the sunset, sometimes with the grandeur of a lightening storm.

The sky over Granada

"Best view in Granada"

If you ever visit Granada and want a splash-,out meal, then get ye to Imagine. Perfect fine-dining but not too pretentious atmosphere, impeccable food.

We were all ready to get out of the city so we headed to Laguna do Apoyo, a crater lake filled with, as we were told numerous times, the most pristine water. And it was. It was the most perfect water to swim in - velvety warm and sparkling clear. To this day, my waterbaby D still talks about it with high reverence.

Full moon over Laguna de Apoyo

We were in and out of it numerous tmes per day. We spent 3 days there staying at the Monkey Hut, whose balcony gave us National Geographic worthy views of the full moon arising over the lake and of the tropical thunder and lightening storms that rolled away as quickly as they came. I love the tropics! We made a day trip into nearby Masaya, famed for its artisan market. I´d estimate that there was approximately 100 stalls but they all sold exactly the same stuff. So here´s a tip - forget about the market and recruit a taxi driver to take you to pueblos blancos - nearby villages each specializing in one craft, for eg. pottery, hammocks, wood, etc. The Monkey Hut had hooked us up with  Edgard, champion taxi driver and he gave us a mini tour of Masaya, took us the scenic way home and took us to the supermarket. His limited English and my poor Spanish met at an agreable point of mutual understanding and the day we left Monkey Hut saw us jumping into Edgards taxi again for a breezy 2 hour drive to San Jorge to catch the ferry to Isla de Ometepe.

Ferry crossing

Now, if I could break into the recollecting a bit to let you know that at every stop on our trip, I´ve thought, fancifully, to myself, "Could I see myself living here long-term? Do I love it that much? Does it feel that comfortable?" So far I hadn't found a place that I could answer those questions in the affirmative, until Isla de Ometepe.

The Isla is in Lake Nicaragua and is really two volcanoes that jut out of the lake. After a scorching hour long ride on top of a rickety old boat we arrived ashore the island and hopped a taxi for the 45 minute ride to the other side. Cold beers cooling us down we sped out of Moyogalpa along a beautiful paved road that took us around the base of Volcan Concepcion (the bigger of the two), an almost perfectly proportioned peak. Then the roads turned to shit and it was slow going until we reached our destination.The very lovely English couple that we had met previously at Essence Arenal (Costa Rica) had told us about Little Morgans so we had booked there for a couple days. As soon as we got to the bottom of the lushly surrounded drive and were greeted by Tess and Anton, an Australian couple that run the place, we felt at home. Our cabanas were tucked back in the property with a mosquito net draped bed and hammock on the patio - perfection. I was to while away many an hour in that hammock with it's perfect view of forest and sky, birds, hummingbirds, and oh so many different kinds of butterflies flitting around the nearby shrubs. The best moment was at dusk when scores of fireflies appeared. 
Our three nights booked stretched to six as none of us wanted to leave. Each night we sat in the bar/restaurant/your living room at home with Tess and Anton and whoever else happened to be hanging out that night - it was like being with old friends. 
After a day of relaxing we decided to climb nearby Volcan Maderas. We set off in the rain at 7:30am with our local guide Alexi. The first hour was kinda leisurely as we slowly ascended through banana and coffee plantations into the forest. Once into the forest it was a different story and it got steep. Luckily, distracting us from the pain, we came across lots of monkeys - capuchins and howlers. After six hours of straight climbing up and over tree roots and rain gouged tracks we made it to the crater lake at the top. Lunch tasted real good. In good spirits we started down but after four hours of knee crushing descent there were a couple of us that had had it. Veering away from the path we had taken up, Alexi took us down the "shortcut" - a steep 7 minute run down through a coffee plantation. Alexi, bless him, would run ahead to turn around and assist the nana of the group, me, down. Megan was in hysterics but her laughed masked the pain her knees were in. When we finally got back to Little Morgans, 9 hours after we started off, we were all shattered. Megan and I were sore for DAYS afterwards.
The next day Darren and Darren set off on a fishing trip. They had been regaled with tales of guaranteed bounty. Megan and I went into nearby Balgue with Tess to do a relaxing yoga class and when we got back we ate lunch and talked about how much we were looking forward to fresh fish on the BBQ. Alas. it wasn't to be. D & D turned up 5 hours after they set off with empty hands. Well, they both caught a goldfish each that they gave back to the lake, out of compassion or embarrassment? Probably both. 
Couple days later we hopped on the back of the truck (ummmm, riding on the back of a ute, blatting down crazy ass country roads = most fun ever. Remember to keep your smile closed to avoid bugs in mouth) and Anton dropped us off at the entrance to Ojo de Agua - mineral baths that they've built pools around. The water was gorgeous and you can sit there all day, get a bite to eat, a cold beer to drink.
Tess and Anton are living my dream - along with owning part of Little Morgans they have bought some land up the road and are building a simple house there on two acres. And the price they paid for the it, well, without going into specifics let's just say that we could afford it, no worries. I really did not want to leave this paradise but we had to move on. My heart was heavy that day. I know we'll be back.

The intrepid trekking team with team leader, Alexi, in the middle. Considerably more upbeat than when we got back.

The view from our hammock. Spot the dragon.

Next stop: the beach town of San Juan del Sur! Touted as the best beach spot on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and therefore the most developed, almost to "Costa Rican levels". It was the perfect place to spend our last couple days with Megan and Darren. We stayed at a super cheap hostel beside the beach and all the restaurants were at easy reach. What can I say? We swam in the sea, drank beer on the balcony of M&D's room, shopped for last minute Nicaraguan knick knacks. We did take a boat trip to a deserted beach where we spent the day playing with the waves, reading, and racing hermit crabs. The sunsets were epic and were a fitting metaphor for our time in Central America. Nicaragua, we'll be back! Costa Rica, sort your weather out and we'll talk!PS: bummed that I didn't get to see any scarlet macaws.

Sunset and silhouetted sisters in San Juan del Sur

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