Page 4 of Weir travels Travel Blog Posts

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"

Asia » India » Maharashtra » Mumbai October 26th 2010

This blog describes a particularly eventful night in Mumbai nearly eighteen months’ ago. I don’t usually blog about events so far in the past, but, in writing up this volume of my journal recently, I realised that it demonstrated so many of the contradictions and frustrations and fascinations of India that it might just entertain, despite its length… A couple of names have been changed to protect the innocent. The photographs are unrelated to the evening, but are included for decoration. Ten days earlier, on my way through Mumbai en route to southern Karnataka, I had met Anna, the cousin of a friend back home. She was working in Mumbai for an international fashion magazine that had newly launched in India (we’ll call it Fashionzine). We chatted over a delicious but sanitised Western salad lunch, and ... read more
the Gateway to India
the University of Mumbai
Jain Temple ceiling

Oceania » Australia » New South Wales » Tibooburra October 3rd 2010

“If anyone wants a killer, come and see me after,” called the compere as we waited for the first of the afternoon’s activities to begin. “Saves ’em being taken back to Dubbo. Get yourselves a killer,” he urged. My ears did a double-take, rewinding the last few seconds. And then remembered. Welcome to the bush. Where men are men, and sheep are afraid. Or, more accurately, in the mutton-bustin’ event we were about to watch, kids ride sheep and the sheep then head for the pot. Less “kill-ers” than “kill-ees”. I took a break from the events in the ring to wander over and top up our drinks. The motherly lady on the other side of the bar looked up with an all-enveloping smile as I approached. “How’re you goin’ today?” “Good, thanks. And you?” “Aaaw… ... read more
Sturt desert peas
a field of Darling peas
wild flowers near Cobar

Middle East » Lebanon » Baalbek June 1st 2010

“You would have kicked yourself had you not got to Baalbek (or I'd have kicked you!!),” promised Nick who lives in the Middle East. For anyone with any knowledge of Roman ruins and/or the Middle Eastern history, Baalbek is a must-see. For me, ignorant of Classical remains despite the best efforts of two Classicist parents, this was my first “real live Roman ruin” and, quite literally, it took my breath away. Relatively few man-made creations have that effect on me. The natural world, scenery and wildlife: yes; man’s efforts, generally no. Maybe it’s because the impact and scale of impressive scenery cannot be conveyed by even the best television cameras. Maybe it’s because our relatively higher exposure to the world’s great monuments makes them familiar long before we see them for ourselves: a film scene set ... read more
Baalbek's not that exciting...
roof detail of one of the circular exedra in the Great Courtyard
Baalbek's Propylaea

Middle East » Lebanon May 31st 2010

I tried very hard with Lebanon. I really did. And I’m not used to having to try at all: brand new territory for me mentally as well as geographically. But I never quite got there. And somehow that conclusion - reluctant as I have been since my return to voice it even to myself - makes me feel as if I failed. The history is mind-blowing, I’ll readily admit: from fossils millions of years old to the most incredible Stone Age, Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Arab and Crusader ruins, often all piled on top of each other like a giant four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The wine is delicious, the beer perfectly palatable, and I never quite managed to tire of hummus and tabbouleh. But something didn’t click for me. Maybe I never quite got over the traffic, and ... read more
the Corniche, Beirut
the well-shelled monument of the Place des Martyrs
the remains of the winter snow through the cedars

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