We met up with our second helper of the day at the Honduras/Nicaragua border and again I showed him my cell phone with all the official border fees and warned him to save his extortion tricks for the next unprepared traveller. With a grin of understanding he went to work exiting us out of Honduras and into Nicaragua.
After 2.5 hours of running here and there obtaining the stack of required photocopies and paying the $12.00 per person visa fee, $12.00 mandatory moto insurance fee and the usual $3.00 fee for fumigation we were given the green light to enter Nicaragua but not before being hit with one last surprise! We were informed by immigration that because we had crossed the CA4 countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and now into Nicaragua that our passports only qualified for a total of 90 days inside the CA4 countries and that we only had a remaining 45 days before we must exit out the other side into Costa Rica. This was the first time I had heard of this time restriction so any future travellers may want to factor this into their travel plans accordingly. It was not a big deal for us as we only plan to visit Nicaragua for one month before moving onto Costa Rica and then Panama where we have a sailboat booked to carry us and the moto from Panama to Colombia early August.
Off we rode only a short 20 kilometre ride into Nicaragua to our first stop of Somoto where we decided to shake off the days double whammy border battle with a few cold deserving Nicaraguan beers.
The quiet yet clean and pretty little town of Somoto was a sleepy place and trying to find dinner at 8’oclock was a chore. It seemed all restaurants closed up shop when the street lights or lack there of came on and our dinner tonight consisted of two fried tortillas stuffed with corn flour and rice purchased street side. The lacklustre dinner desperately required the two beers we bought at the pulperia (corner store) to choke the dry dinner offerings down.
We made tracks for Granada the following day and decided to take the long way around to explore some of the Nicaragua back country and avoid as much Pan-American highway as possible.
Now Nicaragua is well documented for its bribe thirsty police force and only five kilometres out of Somoto I recognized the boys in blue waiting for me by the side of the road. As I approached the check stop it appeared there was no blowing through this one as pylons were lined across both lanes forcing drivers to weave between them and come to a stop inside the designated area. I was forced to pull to the side and was approached by two officers. I had no idea if these guys were police or border patrol and as they approached they didn’t look very friendly. The men asked me for my “documentos” and now was my chance to show them just how dumb I was willing to play. If they were looking for a “take” from me they would first have to deal with the most uncomprehending tourist of the day and so with my best attempt to deny understanding anything they might say I told them “no fumar espanol” which means “I don’t smoke spanish” a well used line in the adventure rider world to play dumb gringo. My hope was to discourage any further attempt at conversing with the dumb tourist hopefully avoiding the bribe proposition. I didn’t even receive a chuckle or a confused look from these two serious cats and again was asked for “documentos” ok, ok I dug around for my stack of paperwork and handed it to them. They walked around the bike and it appeared they were surprised when they realized I was Canadian. They then proceeded to ask me a serious of questions that truth be told I didn’t comprehend much of and just politely continued to say “no comprende” with my confused face look. As they returned my documents the one officer pointed at me then at his eyes then at me again as he said the word “transito” which I took as a warning to watch out for transitos or maybe he said that the transitos were going to be watching out for me. Either way it was during this exchange that I realized I was dealing with border officials and that the real problems may lie ahead with the bribe thirsty transitos. They handed back my documents and flagged me off. As we rode off I had to remind myself that it was time to start obeying the typically flexible road rules that seem to go unobserved in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and that in hopes of avoiding mr. transito I best start playing by the rules.
We found our turn off and headed down the road less travelled.
40+ km of dirt roads through Nicaraguas farm country where we were hooted at and whistled at while receiving lots of thumbs up and friendly waves. I doubt this area off the main highway receives much tourist traffic and the locals seemed surprised yet welcoming to see us.
Almost 30km into this backroad adventure we again approached a checkpoint where three men flagged us to a stop. With a handshake and a smile they asked for our documents and wanted to have a look through the panniers. These guys seemed much more friendly then the last duo so I gave them my friendliest conversation attempt. They went about their business recording my passport and drivers license information onto their clipboard and as they returned my documents they pulled out their cell phones and snapped a few pictures as we jumped back aboard Blanco. A couple thumbs up and some friendly waves were exchanged as we drove away. I had a chuckle inside my helmet wondering if they were actually taking our pictures because we were a rare sight or if they were texting our photo to their bandito or transito buddies up ahead warning them of the unsuspecting moto riding tourists headed their way. Either way we rolled on and without incident arrived back at the paved highway headed for Jinotega.
We gassed up in Jinotega and that was Blancos first taste of liquid gold or at least that’s what I paid for because the pumps register converted to $1.50cdn per litre of premium gasoline…ouch! We decided to push onto Granada and the smooth twisty paved roads leading down from the dry highlands of Jinotega towards Granada made for some fast flowing moto riding.
We met back up to the Pan-American highway where the scenery grew green and lush as we made our way towards Granada.
Once in Granada we went on the hunt for a hotel which proved to be more difficult then it should have been in a city full of tourists and hotels. Our problem started when we decided to look for a specific hotel and as we made lap after lap of the same four square blocks my patience begun to wear thin. We asked a few locals about the hotel we were searching for and nobody seemed to know where it was even though we were directly in the vicinity of its supposed location. We gave this particular hotel too much effort and the sweat from the days already five hour ride was too much to handle. We abandoned the hunt and searched for the first hotel that would let us park Blanco off the street.
Hotel Kekoldi invited Blanco to spend the night inside the lobby and it was a damn good thing too because for practically the entire two days we visited Granada it poured rain harder then one can possibly describe.
Granada was a very pretty city filled with colour and architecture problem was that for the two days we were there it poured rain for almost the entire time. We woke up on the second day and went to breakfast at the restaurant inside the hotel while we waited for the rains to stop. As we finished up our breakfast the hotel staff came out of the kitchen carrying a birthday cake complete with trick candles for the birthday boy!! It was a very nice touch by the hotel which must have noticed my birth date on my passport when we checked in the day before and the kind thoughtful gesture made my day.
The rains finally let up for a couple of hours so we headed out to explore around Granada.
Unfortunately we weren’t dry for long and after only managing a few photos of this charming picturesque city set along the shores of Lake Nicaragua we were forced to retreat back to our room into cover while the Central America rainy season showers did their thing.
The following morning we decided while there was a break in the rains we best be hitting the road and so we pushed off leaving Granada headed for the beaches of Playa Gigante.
We had been informed of Gigante and of a cool hotel called hotel Brio by a good friend back in Ontario. Our friend has friends in Gigante running Hotel Brio so we headed on over to say hello to the Brio owners Yvan and Leslie from our mutual friends Trevor and Barb back in Ottawa. We were glad they had recommend this hotel to us and Leslie and Yvan welcomed us with a great deal at their quiet relaxing hotel.
We decided a week in Gigante should be enough to enjoy the beautiful beaches here but we could have stayed longer. We unpacked and went for a quick stroll down to the beach to take a look.
What we found was a very picturesque beach with little development and a small local surf scene. The few hostels and surf camps are filled up with younger tourists looking to relax, surf and mingle.
We took the advice of some new friends and went for a hike up the rocky lookout point on the south end of the beach were the views were amazing looking down towards Costa Rica.
On Tuesday we heard about a party boat that sailed along the coastline and for $20.00 per person you got a scenic boat trip some swimming time and all the “pirate punch” you could handle…. obviously we signed up! The boat trip was a blast as we sailed south down the coastline past one beautiful beach after another.
Very few of the beaches have housing developments and most are still undeveloped so as we sailed on we began to feel like true pirates in search of undiscovered lands…
It could also have been the heavily mixed pirate punch was starting to kick in and the “Christopher Columbus” feeling was that of over indulgence and sun stroke. Either way it was a super fun way to waste the afternoon and surprisingly neither of us suffered from the self induced “scabies” the following day either.
The sunset fell over playa Gigante and with our bellies full of pirate punch we retired early to get a good nights sleep before we hit the water a la manana in search of anything with gills and fins.
With the reputable captain Robby we headed out first ting the next morning into some seriously rough swells and strong winds in hopes of hooking up.
After thirty minutes of battling large waves and pesky winds strong enough to cross fishing lines creating tangled messes we abandoned the original plan to chase big fish offshore and returned to the closer, calmer and safer waters of the inside bays.
We trolled around for four hours as captain Robby switched out lure rig after rig in hopes of getting something to bite.
At this point in our fishing trip of Central America we are beginning to wonder if the fish gods ever want us to have a grand day on the water or if the gods are just simply teasing us for foolishly denouncing ourselves as “big fish hunters”. Clearly by my rant you can guess that it was a tough day to say the least and all mates aboard todays boat went home with our tales between our legs and hungry. The show must go on and come hell or high waters we are going to catch some fish here in C.A.!!!
After a relaxing week in Gigante we reluctantly packed up our things and made tracks for Lake Nicaragua and the Isle Ometepe. We caught the early morning ferry from San Jorge (Rivas) and made the short one hour float over to Ometepe heading to the beach of Santo Domingo. (Ferry fee $5.00cdn. for motorcycle, $2.50 per person, $1.00 port tax)
We had planned to stay and explore Ometepe island for six or seven days however lake Nicaragua was very rough from all the wind blowing hard down here and the lake was a windy blown out mess.
There is two volcanoes on the island and to hike them usually takes between six and eight hours to summit and return. Both volcanoes were completely socked in by clouds limiting the chance of any views from the top and so we decided to not do a hike……
The eight hour up/down day may have helped with the decision to not hike aswell.
We planned on catching the Ferry from port Altagracia to the north east side of the lake so we could ride on to puerto Bluefields before catching another ferry headed for the Corn Islands.
The plan fell to shit when in Altagracia I was informed by the security guard that the next sailing to the N.E. side of the lake had been postponed for at least two weeks until the winds subside and the lakes waters calm down.
We were left with some decisions to make and based on time restraints we had to forgo the idea of sailing to Corn Islands and decided returning back to the mainland and visiting San Juan del Sur was going to be the best way to wrap up Nicaragua.
Before heading back tho we needed to check out Ometepe so we took a day and rode the loop roads that circle the 31km long, 10km wide island which took about five hours to do.
Below are some views from around the island where I was told some of the locals have never left to step foot on the mainland in their lifetime.
The beach where we stayed called playa Santo Domingo was a very quiet spot with very little to do besides stroll the windy beach and relax. The Island soon got a little too sleepy for us and after four solid days of pounding winds the lake was a blown out mess and the beaches of the pacific were calling us back so we decided to pack up and head back to the main land.
The Corn Islands were out so back on the ferry we went after four days on Ometepe we are headed for the well known beach town of San Juan del Sur.
We arrived on Sunday and just in time to catch a lively parade as the town was gearing up to celebrate their national San Juan del Sur day on Wednesday. Bummer we didn’t have the camera with us as the parade was quiet colourful filled with music, floats, dancing and a thirty foot log pole that must have taken fifty people to carry. Jenn and I both wondered what was with the pole just as we heard another person say it was for the greasy pole climb that we would witness later on in the week.
San Juan del Sur is defiantly where all the Nicaraguan money lives. Huge houses splashed the hillsides and every time I asked who owned the large houses around the beachfront I was told the same thing “governo, governo” meaning government official owned homes.
The beach in San Juan was a perfect size for strolling. Inside the bay the cool water was great for swimming and the views surrounding the beach were beautiful.
Another day comes to an end over San Juan.
The only knock I would give San Juan was that it was certainly where people came to party. The lively streets on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights were almost too much party. If you were looking for a calm quiet place to spend a few days I might suggest looking at other options around Nicaragua or visit here mid week when it was much quieter.
We managed to bump into a fish crazy cat named Mike and after swapping a few fish stories Mike hooked up a boat for us to go out fishing on. We met up with Mikes friend and boat captain Miguel and headed out for a fish. Miguel has a small seventeen foot panga and we ventured out into some strong winds and rough waters possibly a little risky in such a small boat. After battling heavy winds and waves large enough to completly soak us inside the boat we landed back onshore with one nice Jack travelle and another Jack breaking free boat side so not all a bad day.
San Juan del Sur day the towns national day of celebration arrived on Wednesday and the town was in full party mode.
Eating, drinking, parading and the greasy pole climb was the days events.
These guys worked in teams for over two hours trying to capture the flag attached to the top of the greasy telephone pole until the winning team finally managed to do so after hours of trying.
The party went on all night ending with a 4 a.m. drunken parade around town ensuring anyone that left the party early to sleep was not going to do so..
The following day we again met up with Mike and Miguel to take another crack at operation “land a big fish”. Again the waves and wind were pounding and waves crashed up and over the side of the boat completely soaking us from tip to tail. We trolled around and around without action until finally it happened! Line began to peel off the spool and the reels drag sang the song of a hook up. The battle begun and Mike and I were forced to duck as Jenns rod swung from one side of the boat to the other. Jenns dancing partner thrashed fiercely on the other end of the line and after circling her around the boat more then once the toothy critter began to tire out. Captain Miguel reached for the gaff and Jenn hauled in this lengthy Hound fish.
Back onshore Mike had his favourite restaurant Dorados cook up our catch for us and man was it delicious! After dinner more of our friends showed up and the mixed crew of Canadians, Nicaraguans and one loose wild Spaniard got on having a good time.
On Sunday there was another parade come through town. This time it was a horse parade with hundreds of riders showing off their horses finest struts. People were celebrating, partying and having a good time.
Having stayed just over one week in San Juan it was time to venture on to Costa Rica. When our friends Sarah and Regan told us they have a house rented in playa coco Costa Rica and that there was a room for us we packed up said goodbye to our new hotel Maracuya amigos and made off towards Costa Rica.
Next stop Costa Rica!