RVing in Central America - San Jose to San Jose y Beyond

Published: February 27th 2010
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From Trujillo, because of possible trouble with banditos, we were advised to backtrack to Tela and only drive the main roads south to Honduras’s capital city of Tehgucigalpa, from which it was as easy drive into Nicaragua. Much of CA-5 was excellent. The rest was under construction. Along about KM 21.5 shadows were getting long and we had began to worry about where we would spend the night when Ray noticed a sign a saying Campamento on the left side of the road.

We turned around, came back and stopped at the gate. A young lady walking along the road with her babies led Ray up the road to the home of Julio and Irma. Julio invited Ray to stay for the night so he walked back down the road and we drove up the narrow winding road to their property. After we got settled, we showed Julio and Irma our camper and they gave us a tour of their property and invited us to their home for coffee.

They have a large estate where Julio cultivates exotic plants more or less as a hobby. He used to own a nursery and has dabbled in raising exotic birds and collecting tropical fish for export to the U.S. Julio’s father had worked with the Honduran Consulate in San Francisco when he was a boy. He spent four months there when he was 14. Although it was 50 years ago, Julio remembers the city well and still speaks excellent English. Because of his many American business associations and the American botanical publications to which he subscribes, Julio has been able to keep fluent.

In addition to his nursery of exotic plants, Julio and Irma have also built several large dormitories to accommodate the many missionaries that come to serve this area. They can accommodate up to seventy people at one time. When groups arrive, they employ staff to prepare meals and do housekeeping.

Most of the groups that come here are evangelical. Except for some folks from Washington state, it seems like all of the rest have come from the south or south mid-west. These groups have established full time missions in the area through which materials are supplied so when the missionaries arrive from the U.S. - usually for one or two weeks - all of the materials are available for which to build homes, etc. Julio and Irma have hosted medical teams as well. Medical missionaries bring their supplies with them.

While Julio and Irma can not accommodate large groups of RVers, they said that they would enjoy accommodating one or two small rigs at a time. The coordinates are N13.56.47.0 W

Clearly Julio appreciated my interest in his propagation techniques. Before we left he gave me a tour of his gardens and asked one of his groundskeepers to demonstrate the technique.

After we came over the mountains, the countryside became more arid. By the time we rolled down into Nicaragua it was just plain ugly. Like in El Salvador, trash is strewn along the highways. Clearly, this mess is caused more than just by folks tossing soda bottles out of their cars. I wonder, do guys tell their wives, “don’t worry about the trash, honey, I’ll throw it out on my way to work.”

The border crossing between Honduras and Nicaragua went well. It only cost $8.00 to exit Honduras and about $40.00 to enter Nicaragua. There was the usual gaggle of “expeditors” at the border and Ray told them all “no” but Bruno latched onto him and actually probably helped smooth the transit. On the Nicaraguan side, Bruno was joined by another guy. Ray gave Bruno $10.00 to share with his amigo. They seem satisfied. A lady from the agricultural department came out to have a look at Furgie. As Furgie was napping, she requested I rouse her to - I guess - prove that she wasn’t sick. She charged Ray $10.00 for Furgie’s immigration and kind of smirked when she saw that Honduras had charged $25.00. All together, exiting Honduras and entering Nicaragua only took about an hour and a half.

We later found out that John and Johnette had had a horrible experience crossing from Honduras into Nicaragua. It cost them about $300.00 to get out of Honduras. While John was clearing customs, men surrounded their truck and shouted stuff at Johnette until she became so terrified that she began to cry. At this point, a lady came thru the crowd and shooed the men away and helped the Reeds enter Nicaragua. After they were cleared into Nicaragua, they were stopped by several policemen, or men dressed in police uniforms, three times. Each group demanded $100.00 morditas (bribes). I’m not sure how much money they coughed up but they said that these men were very threatening. One even opened Johnettes’s door.

We had hoped to catch up with John and Johnette on the 24th as promised but because we had spent so much time with Julio and Irma in the morning we were forced to spend the night at a Shell gas station in Esteli about seventy-five miles north. (We have always been advised to be off the road by dark. This was reinforced by Julio that morning). I was pleased to be able to ask the young station manager if we could “parque aqui por la noche por favor”. I’m sure that this is very poor Espanol but clearly he understood and didn’t even ask that we patronize his station although Ray did. There were No Femur signs all over the place. All he asked was if we smoked. We said no and he pointed to an area in the back.

While I fixed dinner, Ray had a nice visit with a young man who had lived in Oakland for three years. Since there was no mention of why the young man had returned, Ray assumed that he had been deported. That is so sad.

Just after mediodia (12:00), we pulled into Parque National Volcan Masaya where John and Johnette had been camping for about a week. We were all happy to see each other. I am one of these people that never get sick but right away, Johnette noticed that I had a cold. It was an odd coincidence but Johnette had gotten the same thing. We had separated ten days ago. We’d both become sick four days ago. At first, I thot I was having an allergy attack. The next day I thot it a was sinus problem. By the third day clearly I just had a cold. Johnette had had identical symptoms but she had blamed it on the sulfuric air belching out of the nearby volcano.

After we got settled we drove into town to shop in a neighborhood known for its artisans and to have lunch at one of John and Johnette’s favorite spots overlooking Laguna de Masaya. We did not have time to explore much of the town. Masaya was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2000. We did drive to a barrio where many artisans have set up shop. The crafts created in this area are very appealing and unlike many things we’ve seen on this trip these articles would fit in any décor. Prices seemed rather high but unlike Mexico and Guatemala, haggling was not welcomed. The streets were also lined with numerous nurseries. I’m not sure what that is all about. Tourists may bring home pottery and hammocks but not plants. Poverty is clearly the norm. One would not think an impoverished person would squander money on pretty plants so I wonder who are the nurseries’ target market?

We then drove up to Crater Santiago which is still smoking and steaming. The road goes all the way to the top of the crater. One only has to get out of the car and lean over the guardrail. Early Spaniards called the volcano the gate of hell and erected a cross in hopes of exorcising the demons that dwelt within. The following sentence was borrowed word for word from Lonely Planet: According to legend, pre Hispanic inhabitants of the area would throw young women into the boiling lava at the bottom of the crater to appease the Chaciutique, the goddess of fire.

This morning we got up early to make the well known arduous border crossing from Nicaragua into Costa Rica. We arrived at 9:30 hoping to complete our paperwork before siesta. Getting out of Nicaragua was fairly easy. The Costa Rica side was very busy. They charged $7.00 for Rambo and $9.00 for Furgie. Altogether, it took three and half hours and cost $54.00, $30.00 of which went to expeditors and mordida (bribes).

While waiting at the Nicaraguan border for Ray to process thru I spent a long time talking with one of the vendors who spoke excellent English. He had learned the language here. He pointed out two vehicles detiorating in the regular parking area. One, a Ford from California with tags that had expired six months ago had been nabbed entering the country with ten million dollars. He said that people are allowed to bring in $10,000. The driver is in jail. The other was a truck that had been there for five years. The driver was caught with two hundred kilos of cocaine. That would be four hundred pounds! He is in jail too. We had been told about life in Mexico’s prisons. Sounds like it is even worse here.

Additional photos below
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1st March 2010

I was thinking about you guys while watching the news about the Chilean earthquake and subsequent tsunami warnings. Did that affect your travels?
26th November 2011
Recreation of the cross first built by the early Spaniards in hopes of exorcizing the demons that dwelt in hell below.

Recreation of cross first built by the early Spaniards.....
Need more information-please. i.e where is this located? when was the original erected by the Spanish? When was the recreation of this Cross completed. etc,

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