Back to school in the Nica time
Date: 5th April – 19th April 2012
Where: San Marcos de Colon (Honduras) – Somoto (Nicaragua) – Esteli – Seboca – Masaya – Granada
Distance: 1800 to 1996 miles
Crossing the border into Nicaragua on Good Friday was a very different experience from any other bureaucratic business we’d had thus far. The bureaucracy remained, but it could be enjoyed in peaceful solitude given we were the only people present other than money lenders, soldiers, officials and local spectators who evidentially have nothing better to do. We were confused when asked by one official for a receipt for our bikes, but soon managed to confuse him with our Spanglish and zoom down the hill to Somoto. On the normally bustling Pan-AM highway we met 3 cars, one truck, a friendly policeman who told us to put our helmets on and gave us road safety leaflets (obviously in Spanish), and a procession of 200 or so Spaniards marching with a cross. Something to do with Easter, we guessed, as we solemnly glided past. The evening in Somoto consisted of another procession (much larger) which we joined for 4 blocks before escaping for food. We also met Aran and Andrew again. It was the sort of town where foreigners stick out like a sore thumb. Speaking of which Sarah was having few issues with her own thumbs…more on that later. As a footnote for those who enjoy the vertical rather than the horizontal, there seemed to be a lot of climbing potential and activity around these parts…something for the future maybe!
Easter Saturday we continued down our empty road and then up our empty road to Esteli passing tobacco farms and the corresponding cigar factories for much of the way. Little did we know that we were following in the footsteps of a certain Nico Stavrakakis with our choice of hotel that night. He was already 2 days ride away though. Another night, another town, another procession, this time with a brass band.
We tried the dirt again the next day, but chose the wrong road. Uphill to the point of stupidity. No way! Back to the Pan-Am we went, a 10-mile detour quickly forgotten in the gorgeous scenary of the road to Seboca. Here we attempted to camp at a petrol station but soon got attacked by mosquitoes, a good excuse if ever there was one for an air-conditioned hotel room.
We left the cross-roads town early the next day for Tipi Tapa, a large town by all accounts (on our map at least), and a full 60 miles away. The downhill had finally led us into the heat, and the ride was really only broken up by the lush greens and blues of Laguna Moyua halfway. On arrival, Tipi Tapa was rapidly renamed Shiti Crapa due to it only having one hotel which wanted $50 for the night. After much faff looking for rooms in sex hotels on the outskirts, we eventually decided such establishments weren’t for us anyway and set off for Masaya. A 73 mile day culminated in a simple room with no window. The extra fan Sarah acquired halfway through the night eventually cooled us down for the night…what will Costa Rica be like if we are already this hot we thought.
Masaya has a fantastic craft market where we bought, amongst other things, an Esteli-made cigar for smoking wherever we finish this trip, plus two delicious fruit smoothies made of many fruits of which Mango and orange were the two we’ed heard of before. The changing fruits are something we’re looking forward to as we venture further South. Some traditional Baho for lunch sated our appetite as we looked out on Laguna Masaya and the volcano beyond. In the early evening we set off for the short ride to Granada and eventually settled on a nice-looking hostel in the middle of Gringo Street (If you ever go or have gone to Granada, you’ll know which one!).
During our ride down through Nicaragua we’d struggled to make conversation or friends with many Nicas. We’d heard such good things about the people, we decided we needed to consolidate our self-learning and head back to school for a week. Casa Xalteva was perfect for this, and we were both chuffed to finally be able to speak in the past tense at last and stop living in the present all the time! We had 20 hours of lessons spread over 5 days. During this time we stayed with a local family, the Mother of whom was a fantastic cook, so we experienced all kinds of tasty Nicaraguan cuisine during our stay there. Two small mice eating a hole in Geoff’s handlebar bag slightly marred the first night, but these were quickly caught and we had seven days of complete rest there. By chance, our time at Spanish school fitted in perfectly with meeting Sarah’s brother, Nico, who had been sampling coffee in Matagalpa for a few days, just in time for the weekend. We had a bus and hitchhike packed day to the calming waters of Laguna Apoyo (crater lake) and Masaya volcano (smoking crater) finding time to stop off in Masaya for more Baho in-between. The Masaya volcano in particular was incredible looking down right into the depths of the earth and hearing her roar, all while trying not to choke on the toxic fumes. Even the orangey glow of lava was visible for a time. Later that week the school organised a trip to the Isletas in Lago de Cocibolca (islands) which showed a very different lifestyle to that on-land as it is made up of so many small islands.
Oh yes… Sarah’s thumbs…she is cultivating maggots under her thumb-nails, and we used our new Spanish skills to visit a Doctor in Granada for a bit of help. He prescribed lots of medicine which we hope will sort them out soon.