Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

El Castillo

May 13, 2013
by Tina
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El Castillo, Nicaragua – El Castillo is a really interesting town on the bank of the San Juan river. It is a pretty small town, but there is a fort, built to help protect the capital upriver from pirates who boat in from the ocean. The fort was successful in keeping many pirates at bay primarily due to the Raudal El Diablo rapids that slowed the pirates down enough so that the Spanish could attack with canons. The fort was eventually taken by a 22 year old British pirate – mainly thanks to the Spanish solder’s desire to get the heck out of the area – they soon discovered it had become a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. Later the town became an important stop on the 49ers route from the East Coast of the States to California. Many 49ers opted to travel via Nicaragua in order to bypass the arduous land route over the Rockies.

Our boat to El Castillo.

Our boat to El Castillo.

The day we arrived it started pouring – we had officially entered the rainy season. It was their first rain and ours as well. It was nice to have the rain since it had been so incredibly dry and hot the past month, but it would likely rain every day for the rest of our travels – and we weren’t really looking forward to that. We learned when we checked into our hotel that the electricity in the entire town had gone out the day before and no one knew when to expect it to come back on. We didn’t think it would really be that big of a deal, but it turned out that it was really hard to find restaurants serving food. We ate at our hotel’s overpriced restaurant for lunch and ended up having cup-o-noodles and chips for dinner. We also had to take cold showers and use our headlamps to see in our room at night. And no wifi!

The next morning the power was still out and it was looking like rain. After breakfast we hurried over to the fort so that we could visit it before the rain started. The fort was pretty cool with good views and lots of information in English and Spanish about the fort’s history. We just managed to see it all before we had to run for cover and wait out the next downpour.

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Gnats Great!

May 10, 2013
by Tina
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Ometepe, Nicaragua – From Little Corn Island we traveled to another island, Ometepe, which, instead of being in the ocean, was in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and walked to the boat dock for the 6:30am boat to Big Corn. We were advised by a few people to get there early because the boat can get full. I’m not sure this is really the case because they seemed to manage to squeeze on everyone who showed up, even a couple locals who strolled up five minutes after the boat was supposed to depart. We got to Big Corn around 7:10am and then took a taxi to the airport. It seemed crazy to arrive 25 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart, but everyone said that the boats always make the flights and it was fine. We flew to Managua and then took a taxi to the bus station.

The peaks of Ometepe: Volcáns Concepción and Maderas.

The peaks of Ometepe: Volcáns Concepción and Maderas.

At the station a ton of dudes came up and grabbed our bags from the taxi before we could even get out and stop them. We knew they weren’t thieves, just porters looking for tips, but we didn’t really want to pay a tip for work we didn’t really need, or more importantly, ask for. At a time like this I wish my Spanish was better so that I could explain that it’s not right for them to grab our stuff without asking permission and then charge us for it. Guess they are just trying to make a living but we’re not so keen that they do it by taking advantage of people.

From Managua we took a bus to the town of Rivas and then a ferry to Ometepe. The ferry was more like a cargo ship and we had to sit on the top deck on our bags, but it was kind of fun to watch them load up the ship while we waited. From the ferry dock on Ometepe we had to take a taxi to the quieter Santo Domingo beach on other side of the island. Turns out we could have taken a bus but it was jammed packed and it was a 45 minute ride so we forked over the $20 for the taxi which we shared with a couple hippies who lived in Costa Rica.

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Nothing Corny About It

May 5, 2013
by Tina
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Little Corn, Nicaragua – There are basically two ways to get to the Corn Islands, which are located off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean. You can take a five hour bus ride from Managua to El Rama and then a 90 minute boat ride to Bluefields followed by a six hour ferry ride to Big Corn Island, where you then take a half hour boat ride from Big Corn to Little Corn, making it at least a two day journey. We’ll call that the “adventurous” or “Stuart’s preferred” way of getting there. We flew. It took an hour and a half from Managua.

Flying from Bluefields to Big Corn Island.

Flying from Bluefields to Big Corn Island.

When we arrived at the airport in Managua for our afternoon flight, we had to first check in at the airline’s office and pick up our paper tickets and then go check in for our flight. They weighed our luggage and we just barely made the 30lb bag limits. It was all very low key though – I’m not sure they even asked for ID. The plane was open seating and we were lucky enough to be seated next to a group of really obnoxious Americans.

Sometimes I am just amazed at how uneducated young Americans are about the rest of the world. These college kids, in addition to being loud and rowdy, were having a conversation about how Americans are banned from traveling to Russia (!!!). Lucky for us, when we landed at the airport on Big Corn Island, they stayed while we headed for the dock and took a boat to Little Corn.

Looking across to a fancy hotel; The path used to cross the island.

Looking across to a fancy hotel; The path used to cross the island.

Choosing between the two islands was really simple. Big Corn is more developed and Little Corn is more laid back and has much better diving. After arriving on Little Corn we walked right past the touts greeting us at the dock and headed over to the other side of the island to Grace’s Cool Spot, which we heard was a decent and cheap place to stay. And cheap it was: fifteen bucks a night got us a (very basic) room right on the beach. It wasn’t much, the electricity only came on from 4pm to 6am, it was noisy (the walls of the room didn’t go all the way to the ceiling) and we had to use a shared bathroom with cold showers. But right on the beach for $15 – it was hard to complain about any of that. Okay, I did complain a little – mostly about the noise.

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The Crater Good

April 30, 2013
by Tina
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León and Granada, Nicaragua – From Maltagalpa we took the bus down to León. León was hot – we’d heard it was hot from other tourists we’d met in Honduras who where traveling north, and they weren’t kidding. It hit us like a brick when we got off the bus and we had a very sweaty walk to our hostel, Lazy Bones. We were pleased that the Lazy Bones had a pool and hammocks – there were definitely some lazy afternoons in our future.

The cathedral in Leon.

The cathedral in Leon.

We spent our mornings in Leon touring the sights around the city, a few churches, a roof tour of the Cathedral, a so-so art museum and the Heroes and Martyrs museum, which was a bunch of mug shots of Sandinistas taken during the war. It was morbid and haunting – most of solders looked like little boys. As a tourist it’s hard to see that many of the countries we visited were so recently involved in horrific revolutions and civil wars. This exhibit – though simple – really brought that home for us. Some of these guys are probably our taxi cab drivers, waiters, hotel staff or the shoe shiners in the park.

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The Nica Games

April 21, 2013
by Tina
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Somoto, Esteli, and Miraflor, Nicaragua – I hadn’t really thought much about Nicaragua before we traveled to Central America. In fact, when looking at my 1,000 Places to See Before You Die book before we left on our trip, I forgot to write down anything about Nicaragua. But, when I finally looked through the Lonely Planet, I got excited for all the cool things that there were to do there. There were highland towns, Caribbean islands, colonial cities, volcanoes, lake islands and jungle rivers. Cool!

Working our way through the Somoto canyon.

Working our way through the Somoto canyon.

We started our journey into Nicaragua in a small town called Somoto. The town wasn’t much, but there was a canyon nearby which was supposed to be really pretty. The hotel owner told us that we could eat breakfast at the hotel at seven the next morning and the guy who does tours would come by and arrange our canyon tour while we ate.

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