A man riding a cow

Published: March 13th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

This has been an interesting leg of my travels through a couple of the poorest countries in Central America. The journey started very chaotically, and has kind of continued that way … the nature of the countries I traveled through I suppose.

A van showed up at 5am to make our way to Honduras however it was a 14 seater and we were a group of 16. Thus we kicked off at 6am once the an extra van arrived and hit the Guatemala City traffic; it took around 2hr to navigate through this craziness. After a relatively easy boarder crossing and a short 20min drive we were in the little town of Copan, Honduras, home of the famous Copan Mayan ruins. On the way into the site there were over 10 brightly coloured Macaws sitting near the ticket booth to welcome us. The highlights of the ruins were the hieroglyphics on a huge stair case leading up one of the pyramids, plus there were multiple stellas in the grand plaza that are delicately carved and in good condition. The following morning it was another early start, I have had many early starts the past 2 weeks, yawn.

Ok, so we bused to somewhere, had a break, switched buses, bused somewhere else, got in a cab to the ferry terminal, waited for a ferry, jumped on a boat and 11hrs later we were on the Island of Utila, whew, obviously I was very tired. Our accommodation on the island was simply lovely; tucked back off the main street and beautiful wooden mansion with a pool … happy days. It is a very laid back relaxed place, my dinner of BBQ fish took 2hrs to arrive. After Utlila we had a 2 day, 12hrs per day cross country journey to contend with, I tried very hard to arrange a flight … no luck. So I spend the day relaxing, nice jog along the waters edge, late brunch and then a group of us went out to Water Cay … big mistake. The place was not a pristine white sand island; it was a rubbish dump - bottles, cans, rusty corrugated iron, and even feminine hygiene products!!! But our boat had already left us, so we couldn’t leave for 2hrs, I proceed to get bit all over by sand flies and ants. THEN a local tried to charge us a maintenance fee, we obviously refused as there had been no maintenance in many months. The most exciting part of the day was the boat ride back, the waves were crashing down over us, the boat man was bailing frantically. I put my snorkel to use and wore it on the way back.

Let the all day travel days begin!
Caught the 6.20am ferry from Utila back to the mainland, I sat out front and the waves sprayed me with cool water. We then jumped on a direct bus to Comayagua, nothing to report from this town. Following morning we were off again, 7am chicken bus to the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. The bus stop was in the middle of the market, chaos. We jumped on another chicken bus to a town close to the boarder and we were able to hire a van to take us all the way to Leon, Nicaragua. We arrived at the boarder a little worse for wear and got surrounded by a mob of men trying to sell currency, vultures, felt like I was back in India! Nicaragua was visibly poorer than any place in Central America I have visited; lots of young kids chasing the van for money, dry barren land, roads got worse. We arrived into Leon for sunset and headed straight for the plaza which had a very family atmosphere. So here I was in Nicaragua, with the worst of the travel days behind me and looking forward to seeing what this country had to offer.

Our first day in Leon was a little disappointing, mainly due to the tour company we used. First of all they said we couldn’t climb Volcano Momotombo, you could, they just didn’t offer this trip. So we headed to Leon Viejo (Old Leon) the first capital of Nicaragua, the site was recently rediscovered in 1967. The capital was moved from this site to the current site after an earthquake and to be closer to the indigenous people who they enslaved. It was a good move as the site was covered in lava after Momotombo erupted. Although the history was interesting the site itself was rather uninspiring; the ruins were mainly covered in concrete for preservation until more money is received for proper restoration work. However there was a nice view to Momotombo and the lake nearby, plus we saw a little brown snake! The guide was rubbish and disappointingly he was the same person taking us on the afternoon Leon city tour. But we did get to stand on top of the main cathedral which provided us fabulous views of the region and a glimpse at Cerro Negro the 950m volcano we were due to climb early the next morning. There were also some very cool political murals around the city; however we couldn’t gather from the guide what they were about. We were completely over charged for all these tours, but our Tour Leader was able to get us a refund after making a justified complaint. Up at 3.45am for a 4am departure for Cerro Negro, it was a full moon and cloudless morning, thus there was no need for torches as we started the climb through volcanic rock. We then wound around the cone to moveable scoria with rocks slide down, so we were keeping a safe distance from each other. Once we reached the crater ridge it was an easy walk around it to the highest point watching the moon set over the surrounding volcanoes. The sunrise was another special moment, especially with the steam rising out of the crater. The volcano erupts every 7-8yrs, last eruption 2000 so the volcano should blow in the next few years. The way down was different, I was a little bit reluctant but got into it, we ran down the loose scoria which some people snow board down, it was great fun. My shoes were full of scoria! After a quick shower at the hotel we were on a chicken bus heading for Managua, changed on to another chicken bus and we were in Granada, another old colonial town, but in much better condition than Leon, thus more gringos. It was steaming hot, so a few of us girls headed for a courtyarded place for a long lunch, it didn’t cool down in that time so we took a horse and carriage tour around the city. It was a bit of a hoot cruising around watching all the locals sitting out in there rocking chairs doing a whole lot of nothing. We climbed the bell town of one of the many churches and got a fabulous view back to Lago Nicaragua and down onto the candy coloured houses. The next day was jammers. Set off at 9am for a little town called San Juan de Oriente famous for pottery, there were lots of cute kids running around which interested me more than the pottery making to be honest. I did end up buying a little piece; hopefully it will make it back to London in one piece, so far so good. Stop two was a crater lake view point, Laguna Apoyo, it was raining, thus we were soon on our way to Masaya, the main attraction was the artesian market. I personally thought the local markets selling bras, produce, vet products and even contained a hair salon was much more interesting. We then went back to Laguna Apoyo, some of the group swam, I watched from the shore. The funniest site I have seen in some time was a local, who clearly wasn’t that confident in the water, splashing about with 8 or so large coke bottles tied to him, an ingenious floatation device! The next stop was Coyotepe Fort, originally built by the Spanish but later used by the Sandinistas as a prison. We got taken through the cells and torture rooms by a Boy Scout, the group now own the place. There was original graffiti on the walls, political and also messages about dying, you could still see dried blood on the walls of the torture rooms, chilling. Our final stop of the day was Masaya Volcanic Park, there was a huge smoking crater, that set off my asthma instantly, nasty stuff coming out of there obviously. We saw a lovely smoke covered sunset as we did a few very short walks to different view points to see the 5 craters that make up the park. We then ventured into a lava cave to see and hear the bats, it was pretty cool when we were deep in the cave and turned all our lights off to hear all the bats swooshing past us. Great sound. When we surfaced we were provided with gas masks and drove to the top of the steaming crater. With a guide in tow we walked to the edge, no safety railings of course and we leant out over the edge to stare into the fiery orange hole containing the molten hot lava, yikes. There were rather funny instructions on the Parks information sheet. “In case of expulsions of rocks you should protect yourself under the car” …. hmmm.

1 x chicken bus, 1 x ferry, 1 x taxi, and we were on Isla de Ometepe situated in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua. We were staying at Santo Domingo a beach between the two volcanos that form that figure 8 island; Conception (1610m) and Maderas (1394m). That afternoon I did the mother of all mountain bikes, 2.5hrs, the dirt road was full of pot holes and large rocks; I was absolutely shattered after that, but felt better after a swim in the Lake on return. I was up about 5 massive blisters on my hands as well. The following day I did a grueling climb up Maderas Volcano. We set off at 8.30am and went up, up, up. All was going well until we entered the cloud forest and it was like walking up a slippery river, it took us 4hrs to get to the top and 4hrs down since we had to be so careful in the muddy conditions, surprisingly I only slipped once, the track was a nightmare. Thus on return I was even more exhausted and my legs hurt for days, it really was a tough climb.

Yet another early start heading for Costa Rica.
The boat trip back was great we were on an old tug type vessel which rocked precariously side to side as we sat on the roof. The funniest bit was getting off, we docked next to a similar boat and they put out a wooden plank then two people held up a pole to use as a hand rail, a few more safety violations there. The boarder crossing to Costa Rica was mental it ended up taking 3hrs in stinking hot conditions; everyone was a little tense to say the least. On the way to Monteverde our first stop in Costa Rica I saw a guy riding a cow, excellent. After rushing into town to book the following morning activities I went out on a night walk … it was great. We saw 2 sloths, which are slow at everything except sex which takes them 20secs. AND Toucans, however they were sleeping; now I know I have wanted to see Toucans for a while, but since they were sleeping I could not see their beaks, so my search continues. The Toucans we saw were; Keel-Bill and the Emerald Toucanet, they were very cute sleeping a few branches away from their partners they are monogamous birds. We also spied a tarantula, tree porcupine and click beetles. The next day was our one full day in Monteverde so we maximized it! We set off early for a guided walk through the Monteverde reserve, it is a cloud forest, it didn’t disappoint. We managed to see 2 Quetzals, usually a very elusive bird - the first was a teenager so didn’t yet have the spray of tail feathers, the second was an adult, but we only saw its spray of feathers i.e. we only saw it’s behind. The other highlight of the walk was seeing a hummingbird up close and personal in its little nest, its beak just peaking out. We then drove to the Sky Walk on the other side of Monteverde, the walk entailed crossing 6 suspension bridges, thus it was like walking on top of the canopy, it was very peaceful and pretty, but no animals. After that we headed to the Monteverde Cheese Factory i.e. heaven! The factory was founded by the Quakers who were fleeing the US when drafting for the Vietnam War was introduced. We had a tour around the factory which was very interesting, I have never seen cheese being made before, then we saw a slide show. Real slides none of the power point presentation stuff, then we were into the tasting, yummy, their cheeses were great. I finished off the day with a famous Monteverde milkshake for the walk back into town.

Yip it was toucan day, on the way to the ferry transfer to La Fortuna we saw around 6-8 Toucans sitting and flying around a tree, awake, flying, big yellow beaks and all, success. We also saw an amazing rainbow across the Mondeverde valley, I have never seen anything like it; the colours were amazingly vivid. On arrival into La Fortuna all this travel and activity caught up and since it was raining I spent the afternoon in bed watching telly. The next morning it was raining again and just around the time we set off for a little walk to a viewing point to see Volcano Arenal, which La Fortuna sits at the base off, it started to hammer down. I went for the walk anyway; we saw some spider monkeys and got extremely wet. I was suppose to go to the hot springs, but on arrival I discovered all the tourists in a 50 mile radius were also there, so I went back to the hotel for a hot shower. So I will only see Arenal Volcano in a postcard.

We travelled to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, via a animal rescue center. There were such cute little baby monkeys (spider and howler), and very lucky to be at the centre, in most cases their parents were killed or they were being illegally traded.


Tomorrow I am heading back to NZ for 2 x wedding, 1 x hens do, 1 x MY 30th birthday!


13th March 2007

Good to see you finally got to see the Toucans! Wish we could be there for your 30th; you'll have to have another one when you get back here. Crikey, Hartshorne hits 30...who'd have thought... Look forward to seeing you soon!

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