Page 3 of Weir travels Travel Blog Posts

Asia » India » West Bengal May 2nd 2011

Taking a newbie to India is a little like introducing a friend to an adored aged aunt. You know that she’s great value, but how will she perform on the day? After all, there are times when she forgets to wash or “has an accident”, her sense of humour isn’t always to everyone’s taste, and she can be pretty cantankerous on occasion; but when she’s on form, sharing her stories and showing off her jewels, you love her to bits. It’s not like Lorraine was new to travelling. We’d met while she was working, and I was volunteering, at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia; now she’d recently returned from 18 months’ teaching English in South Korea; and she had travelled relatively extensively before that. When she found out that I was planning another India trip ... read more
Darjeeling roofs
the Himalaya from the top of Heritage Road, Darjeeling
Siliguri back streets

Granada was a hole in my Nica experience. A big one. It’s like going to Scotland and not visiting Edinburgh. Travelling around Italy, and missing out Venice. I’d spent the best part of two months in Nicaragua and not darkened the doors of its second city. The weekend before I flew home to a mini-mountain of paperwork and a defunct boiler I rectified my omission. Granada is Nicaragua scrubbed-up for the tourist or the retiring ex-pat. (And very beautifully it’s been scrubbed-up too.) That’s not necessarily a point against it; it’s just something to remember as you sit at a Parque Central café supping your ice-cold Toña while the dying rays of the afternoon sun make the Cathedral glow dazzlingly golden. Because this Granada, the scrubbed-up version, isn’t the whole story – although it’s something of ... read more
carriage, anyone?
Volcán Mombacho from Granada
Mercado Municpal

I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in Panama, so I sulked and came home early. To be fair, this is only the second time in the last five years’ travelling that I haven’t managed to get to where I wanted to go because of logistical and security (rather than simple lack of time) reasons. The first was in Rwanda when, despite getting to the towns at the northern and southern ends of Lake Kivu, I failed to reach the town in the middle of the Lake’s eastern shore, despite trying from three different directions. The buses and the road conditions simply wouldn’t play ball. In Panama, my main aim had been to visit the site of Scotland’s short-lived and tragic attempt at an empire in the 1690s. While much of my school-taught Scottish history ... read more
city contrasts
old and new, Casco Viejo side street
Panama City in a nutshell...

In mid-March I found myself spending a whole day in the company of one of man’s greatest feats of engineering. By “engineering”, I don’t simply mean “architecture” – although that’s not in any way to belittle the experience of wandering around Angkor Wat, walking along (and up and down) the Great Wall of China, imbibing the atmosphere at the Taj Mahal, or catching my breath at the first sight of the Potala Palace. By “engineering” in this context, I mean something that “operates”, with “moving bits” (to be un-technical about it). I was embarking upon an ocean-to-ocean transit of the Panama Canal. A far cry from chasing elephants in the Namib or trekking in the Himalaya or even pottering along the Río San Juan. For once, my camera shutter clicked at things mechanical: the enormity of ... read more
dredging equipment on the Atlantic side
vast walls of riveted metal
Puente de las Américas

I’m back in El Castillo, sitting in a hammock on the balcony of the charming Casa de Huésped Chinandegano, with the rapids that almost defeated a young Nelson in 1780 off to my right. I feel a little guilty for not going back to the pretty Nena Lodge that did me so well last weekend, but this place is right on the river, the French-Argentinean couple I’ve run into from time to time this week went out of their way to recommend it to me, and I was already going to come back here for dinner tonight, with the mouth-watering memory of its “camarones en salsa”… Did I really think this morning that the San Juan del Norte-San Carlos “rápido” could stop here and I would be able to resist the temptation of Yamil’s “bom-bom” coffee ... read more
downriver from the fortress
main street, El Castillo
El Castillo

I stood knee-deep in the water at the edge of the lake, my skirt hitched up as we used to do when attempting handstands in the school playground, rubbing my laundry on the already-soaped ribbed board at one side of the concrete unit. When everything was thoroughly scrubbed, I bent over to rinse the clothes. Having wrung them out, I took them back to dry land and hunkered down under the small lapa, watching the water and the birds as I waited for my flip-flops to dry in the sun, before I headed back up the hill to my washing line and a rare date with a book and a hammock. This is island life. This is the Archipiélago de Solentiname. Where there is no traffic; there are no roads – only, at most, paved pathways ... read more
cormorant drying his wings
howler monkey, Isla El Padre
laundry Solentiname-style

Sitting here in my unexpectedly pretty room in the Hospedaje Familiar in San Juan del Norte, I feel a very long way away from anywhere.* It’s not the remotest place on the planet, I’ll admit, and I’ve probably been to places that took longer to reach, but there’s something about being in a little town on a big continent which is only accessible by inland waterway – and even then only if you have half a day to devote to it, always supposing that you’ve already reached the head of the river, itself fairly remote by any standard – that somehow exaggerates the remoteness: a sense of “so near, yet so far” perhaps. The only way out of here is the way I came yesterday, by boat; and there are only two directions, six hours by ... read more
a tranquil morning in San Juan del Norte
a brief glimpse of the Caribbean coast
early morning mist on the Río San Juan

North or south? This was the tough decision facing Amy and myself when it came to deciding which part of the country we would tackle for our final road trip together in Nicaragua. The south – the Lago de Nicaragua port of San Carlos, the contentious Río San Juan that forms the border with Costa Rica, the hidden depths of several natural reserves, the rarely visited Solentiname islands, and the historic Spanish fortress at El Castillo – was entirely unexplored by Amy, despite the length of time she had spent in this country. Juigalpa and the Parque Arqueológico Piedras Pintadas of the Chontales region was as close as we’d got. After all, San Carlos is at the other end of a 16+ hour boat trip or a bumpy 8-10 hours on the road (about six hours ... read more
view from the road to Jinotega
Nicaragua's national bird, the guardabarranco
coffee beans drying on plastic sheets

“No entiendo,” I smiled apologetically at the unshaven, be-vested skinny man in front of me. He looked at me blankly. “Momentito…” I had had an idea. I pulled out my Mexican Spanish phrasebook (originally acquired for a swine-’flu-kyboshed trip to that part of Central America two years’ earlier) and turned the pages looking for the “Accommodation” section. “Umm… ¿Puedo verla?” I looked up hopefully. “Si, si,” he replied (somewhat to my astonishment – he’d understood me!) and led me down the path. I peered into the room he pointed out, and finally understood what he’d been trying to tell me at the outset. Yes, they did have a room, but it hadn’t been cleaned yet. Then, rightly doubting my understanding of Spanish numbers, he pointed to a handwritten notice on the back of the door: this ... read more
the man behind it all, Augusto Sandino
looking towards Volcán Momotombo

Central America Caribbean » Nicaragua » Chontales January 25th 2011

Nicaragua: Sandinistas… Contras… civil war… Iran-gate… Reagan... For me, those would have been the limited word-associations for “Nicaragua” until only a few years’ ago if I’d really stretched my brain cells. I knew it was in Central America (give the girl a medal!), but, much more than that, and I would have been struggling. I didn’t even know which ocean or sea lapped at its shores. (In fact, it straddles the fragile little wiggle of land that separates the behemoths of North and South America, the Pacific coast being a surfers’ paradise, and the Caribbean side of the country remote and autonomous with little by way of infrastructure or common culture to link it to the political capital of Managua in the west; a dramatic range of volcanoes – Nicaragua’s share of the Pacific “ring of ... read more
caiman petroglyph
the Serranías Amerrique from Juigalpa
"where the rivers are made of milk, and the rocks of cheese"

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