After waiting in San Jose for the 3 hours, we switched to the 3am bus to Managua in Nicaragua.The bus went ok, though they keep it at a freezer temperature and want everyone to be ok with them messing around getting people documents etc ready at 3am.
Anyway.We arrived in Managua and took a taxi across to the UCA bus station where we got on a microbus (meant to be smaller and quicker than a normal one) for 40 Cordoba (about £1.10) for the 1.5 hour drive down to Granada.We'd decided to forget about the capital Managua since the reports from books and people we'd met had been that it wasn't that great and we've had enough of cities anyway.It was a little unnerving when for the first time on our trip, our bags got thrown up on to the roof of the bus.Out of sight…
Both we and the luggage arrived safely in Granada.After a little confusion where we thought the bus would stop at a final point (it didn't and was going back to Managua), we got thrown off at the central park area.Unsure what to do we hopped in a taxi to the hostel.
Arriving at the hostel, we were a little unsure what to expect.We'd read that it was more like someone's house and they'd had a few spare rooms, so started to rent them out.However, the weirdest thing there were 2 Americans, both in their late 60's70's who were there to party.They moved at a snail's pace, so not sure how many shapes they could cut on any dance floor but it transpires that they were there for the women.Surprising!The room was ok but it was a little worrying when you went to the toilet and there was no water to flush with and then you turn on the tap to wash your hands and there is no water there.So after nearly 30 hours of travelling, you don't want a shower do you!!!We were only there for 2 nights but not sure we could last (Marie was starting to really smell !!!!)
In late afternoon, we took a stroll round the town and then sodded it off and had a few beers and got some food.
Back at the hostel that evening, we only had 3 power outages.You wonder what you pay your money for.We'd seen another hotel for about the same price, who boasted about having their own water supply and a backup generator.It's what you need to look for obviously.However, it did start to rain like hell, so after a while we went to check on the water and there was some, so we took that opportunity before someone else did.
This was to be our only full day in Granada, so we wanted to make the most of it.The city is famous for having a lot of old colonial buildings and is the only place in Nicaragua that restores and preserves them.They are also painted in a bright colour.
We started at the clockbell tower of an old church that advertised the best views in town.It actually did give good views and you could see how all the houses are built round a courtyard and how big this city actually is.We then got some breakfast in this great little café (Garden Café) before heading off to their most impressive museum.Here, they had a lot of paintings showing the history (Pre-Columbian) of the city and the battles that it has been through.There was also some sombre basalt sculptures carved by the Chorotega inhabitants of Isla Zapatera between AD 800 and 1200 (Lonely planet is useful again!).These were really just big blocks of carved stones, most a person with something on their head.Then finally, there was a room where they showed the games local people used to play.A bit strange.
By this point, we'd pretty much been round the city to see what there was.We'd read about the Centro Touristico down by the lake, so we thought we'd give it a go and since it would be for tourists, it should be good?Wrong, it was terrible.You walked in, having paid your 10p entrance and the first thing you see is a sign that tells you no guns and knives are allowed in the park.Damn, we should have the AK47 at the hostel !!!This tourist area was a road, with the lake and path running down the side of it to one side and no much on the other side.The road was about 2kms long and there were restaurants and bars now and again, however it felt like this had seen much better days.Lots of the restaurantsbars were closed and everything had just been left for a long time, so it closed very dilapidated.At the end, some guys were offering a boat tour round some of the islands in the lake.For once the price was reasonable and though the guy spoke no English we thought we might as well go.
The boat ride was about an hour.The guy took us out to see around 15 islands in the massive lake and it was really good.Some of the islands were still inhabited by locals who made a living fishing, whilst others had been sold off and now owned by rich locals or gringos.One was even owned by the Flor de Cana family (biggest rum company in Nicaragua).So one island would have more like shacks on them whilst the next one would have a massive, super posh house with a gym and Jacuzzi.Not sure if you'd get on so well with your neighbours!!The final stop was at monkey island.The island was tiny and had about 10 trees on it and was clearly marked as private land.So someone had bought this island and put 34 monkeys on there and gone off.Other people on tours were throwing food to them and we're not sure what they would have done for food if they hadn't.Our trip didn't include this!!
We stopped by at the bus station to check for the times the next day and then in the evening we had dinner and again learnt about Nicaragua's billing.You get a price and then they whack an extra 15% tax and then 10% tip onto your bill.Magic.
A fairy early start today, as the bus left at 8am to Rivas, where we'd take a taxi to San Jorge and catch the ferry to the main volcanic island of the lake, named Ometepe.We got to the bus station just after 7:30 to make sure we got on the bus and got a seat.We boarded the chicken bus (old yellow American school bus) and were pleased to get our bags onto the racks inside the bus.Then we find out through our broken Spanish that the bus leaves at 9am and through an American lady who had been told the same as us and spoke good Spanish, that 8am was on a weekday.So we sat for the 1.5 hours till 9am, which came and went and finally about 9.20am we left.Just smile and move on.
The bus was ok though and we arrived in Rivas.Just before we got there a guy pops on the bus in the hunt for gringos and offers us a taxi.We haggle with him and agree on a price of $3 (60 Cordoba) for both of us.So we get into a taxi (turns out he was just the tout) and he wants a 10% tip, so gets 6 Cordoba.Arrive in San Jorge and get the bags out and give the guy 100 Cordoba.He waits and I wait.Turns out he wants 60 each.Idiot.So we tell him to sod off and in the end we just walk away.Note to self - make sure you ALWAYS have change.It was only an extra £1 but it is damn annoying.He didn't bother to argue with us when we just walked off, he'd pretty much got his whole fare.
We got on the boat that was there and it left after just a few minutes.We vented our anger and moved on from the taxi driver.The boat ride was fine and not choppy at all and we arrived an hour later to Ometepe.We hadn't bothered to book up a hostel, since on line there weren't many and we thought we'd easily find one when we arrived.As soon as we started to walk away from the dock, a lady approached us and told us of her hostel, so we went for a look.At only $12 for the room it could be a bargain.Wrong, it was an absolute sh!t hole.There was no way we were paying anything to stay here.Actually, had it been free, we still wouldn't have stayed.So we went off again.As we got back to the main road, we spoke to the owner of the American Hotel.They wanted $30 and admitted you'll find cheaper but nothing close to as nice.Marie decided to take a look anyway and was very happy with what she saw.They told us to head off but told us as well that there was a yearly fiesta happening this weekend and they'd been told that most places were full.We then went to about 10-15 more and everything was full and it was getting hotter and hotter with bag on the back.So the choice was the sh!t hole or to blow a bit more money and stay in a nice place.We went for the nice place.The room was massive, we had hot water, which was only really useful for Martin to have a proper shave.It certainly wasn't a hostel.
After showering and getting freshened up, we took a stroll round the town of Moyogalpa which we were staying in, got some food and went to see what was going on at the fiesta.It was a real family day and there were stalls selling local arts and crafts and then a massive stage with singers, dancers, clowns etc.It was fun.Then it started to rain and man, when it rains, it pours.We found a bar just next to the park that the fiesta was in and sat and had a beer - they only sold beer, so Marie was back to drinking it !!We sat and watched a kids dance off competition.You have to remember at times that you're in Latin America.Most European kids would be bobbing from one side to another as their dance.Not here, two girls (about 10 years old) had their booties and boobies shaking and dropping down low.It felt kind of wrong as they were only ten and were shaking their arses like we have never seen before.But that's a culture difference. After some beers we headed back to the hotel to get some bug spray, but then it started to rain again and we decided to let the Italian host cook a pesto pasta for us. It was lovely.
We decided to hire a scooter for the day as we didn't fancy climbing the volcano which was the other activity on offer. We had already climbed one volcano in Ecuador. So after getting ready we picked up the scooter and off we went. The lady from the hotel had explained that the only thing you have to worry about on the road are the pigs, cows, horses and chickens as they are not scared and will not move.
After about two minutes of driving we experienced our first cow road block!!
The first place we stopped at was a nature reserve. It was not obvious where the trails started, but we eventually asked someone and were told there were two entrance ways. So we picked one and walked off.After about two minutes we hit a cross path and it was not obvious which one we should take. So we started walking up one but after 15 minutes of not seeing anything we turned around. We walked back to the cross path and took the other trail which took us round the lake. We saw some monkeys which was cool but not much else.So when we hit a fence we realised that the track doesn't go round in a circle. So we had to take the same path back again.When we returned to the scooter we decided to stop for a drink in the restaurant.
We drove for another half an hour passing some villages where they were playing baseball or football. We arrived at Ojo de Agua around midday and didn't know what to expect. The man who greeted us explained that the water comes straight from the volcano and is therefore really clear. He said that people believe the water helps to keep you young. Your hair start growing back, your wrinkles fade etc. If we needed another reason to cool off in the water we had been given one. The whole area was lovely and the water looked amazing. We got changed and jumped straight in. It was refreshing. We chilled out for another hour before we headed off to get some lunch in the village at the end of the paved road.
The restaurant was by the beach and we both picked a curry. It was really nice but there were lots of flies trying to get to the food which was pretty annoying.
We drove back to Moyagalpa which took another hour as we were taking it slow. When we got back to the hotel we dropped our things and then we drove up to give the scooter back in. The fiesta was still going so we had a look around again and ended up buying these dipping bowls.
In the evening we went out for a pizza and then we sat talking to the owners of the hotel over a bottle of wine.
Today we were taking the ferry, bus, then another bus to Esteli in the north of Nicaragua. After an amazing breakfast cooked by the host we left to check in for the ferry. It was much bigger than the ferry we came on which was a good thing as the lake was pretty rough and there was a big swell. When we got off the boat there was an express bus to Managua waiting so we got straight on. It was meant to take three hours to Managua but our racing driver did it in two. We have definitely learnt not to look at the road ahead and watch the driving.
When we called up the hostel in Esteli we were told to be careful when taking a taxi in between bus stations in Managua. She told us there had been quite a few incidents where people had been taken to a cash point and were forced to take out money.
So when we arrived to the bus station we were pretty conscious about which driver we picked. In Panama and Ecuador the main thing was to look for a reg number on the front, side and back window. They should also carry id. So we picked one we felt ok with (probably being ripped off by the taxi fee anyway) and he took us to the other bus station. As soon as we got off the taxi we felt this was a dodgy area so we quickly paid and walked into the bus station.
There was a bus to Esteli in 15 minutes after we arrived so we got some drinks and then went onto the bus. Marie went off to buy some grapes and only when she came back she realised she had paid double what she should have done. But when its £2 you can't really argue.
We arrived to Esteli around three and it was notably cooler. We got the taxi driver to take us to the hostel we had been in contact with and an English lady greeted us. She explained that they were fully booked the night after so we would have to move the following day. We were shown the room and as it didn't look great we decided to look elsewhere. She told us of a few places so we went to have a look. They all wanted about $22-25 for some old smelly room so we decided to go up to this other area which was a bit further out of the centre. We got there and went into a hostel that looked really nice, but they were fully booked. So we ended up going into this hotel that looked way out of our price range and ask. They wanted $30 for a night which was expensive but bearing in mind that the others wanted $25 we thought it was worth the extra money. And the room was great. New bed, new bathroom, new tv, new everything.
In the evening we walked back to the first hostel to get some food in the café but also to get some information about tours they offered. The lady was helpful but only wanted to sell homestays which we are not very keen on. So in the end we just booked up a cigar tour for the following morning.
We had a traditional Nica breakfast (Gallo Pinto, Fried cheese, banana bread and eggs) before we took a taxi down to the café where we were meeting our tour guide. We had been told he spoke hardly any English but to our delight he was pretty good. We arrived at the cigar factory called Santiago and the guide started explaining the process. First we were shown the room where they made the cigar boxes by hand.Again you realise you're not in a developed country when there is heavy glue smell and no one is wearing a mask.Then we were taken to the fermentation room. Whilst we were in there a guy from the factory joined us as the guide said he could explain the process better than him in English.He started to tell us about the different leaves that are used in cigars, the wrapper and the bit in between.He showed us how the leaves were left for 7 to 12 months in this fermenting stage.It really looked as though they had a little amount in stock, considering it would be 7-12 months before they could be used, but then you realise how many cigars could be made from this pile.After the fermentation, came the drying and sorting area.A young guy was in charge of the collection point where people would come and collect new leafs or wrappers.He would keep track of how much was given to each person as well as making sure they got the right type.Then we were taken to see the leaf sorting area.These women would take leaves and strip out the stem and then they decided whether they would be used in their premium or second class cigars or if they needed to be dried further.It all came down to whether the leaf were of a certain colour and had no holes in them.Marie had a go at stripping the stem and though she would need a lot more practice to get the speed of the usual workers, she got the hang of it and did it pretty easily.
The next stage in the process was the rolling area. The guide explained that they work in teams of two. One person rolls the inside and presses it to the desired shape, the other person rolls the final leaf around the cigar and cuts it to shape.
The final stage is the packing are where the cigar gets a band, wrapping, casing etc. When we got to the end we were offered to buy some. All cigars were one dollar each regardless of size. As we don't smoke cigars and don't know of anyone who does we decided to buy 15!!!
The tour had been really good and we were well pleased we had booked the tour.
In the afternoon we took a taxi to a café outside of town. We had read about the place in lonely planet and thought it sounded nice. We arrived and it wasn't entirely clear how you order, but after some pigeon Spanish we managed to understand you write down what you want and then go and sit down. The café was located in a small park surrounded by gardens and it was very pretty. We both ordered brie with bread and it was great. We had not had nice cheese for a while and this made a pleasant change.
In the evening we decided that we were going to go to Matagalpa the following day to visit the coffee plantations.
So we got up fairly early and went to the bus station with just our day packs, as the hotel said they would keep our backpacks as we'd be going back for a couple of nights.We took the chicken bus to Matagalpa, which took only an hour and a half and went to the hostel that we had found, to check in.
We then went over to Matagalpa Tours and booked up for the coffee tour the next day.
Then we went up to El Castillo de Cacao, a small chocolate producer just on the edge of the town.We turned up around 1pm and was told, in Spanish, that lunch would be over around 2pm and then a tour could start, so we just hung around and waited.Then a lady came and started the tour.Everything was in Spanish - she spoke no English at all.We were thankful that we'd been to Cadbury World in NZ so we understood the processes that she was showing us.We were taken round the small factory, where all of the 2 people worked and were shown all the processes.We got the points she was trying to tell us and we got to try some of their liquid chocolate.They only produce one bar that is 50% Cocoa, 50% sugar (with some varieties, such as nuts) and one bar that is 75% Cocoa and 25% sugar.We got to try the 75% one and it was so strong.Marie seemed to like it a lot more than Martin, who decided that there would be no purchases for him of that strength.The tour was really good, as you got to see a real small producer and all the traditional equipment.With the amount that they make, there is no need for large machinery that can turn out thousands of chocolate bars.Parts of the process are still very manual as well.
At the end, the lady asked us a question and we had no idea what she asked us.We think she thought then that we hadn't understood anything that she had been telling us and kind of left us in the shop and walked off in a huff!!!We bought a few bars from the shop, Marie going for the 75% and Martin for 50%, though he still didn't like this really, having tried it after leaving.
We headed back to the hostel, before getting some food and relaxing for the evening.
We got up and had an early breakfast.We were picked up by our tour guide, introduced to the driver and a trainee tour guide.It appeared we were the only ones on the tour.We'd already been told that it wasn't coffee harvesting time but we were still able to visit a farm, that was used additionally as a learning centre for other farms in the area.It took about an hour to get there and was much cooler than in Matagalpa, which was a relief!We started the tour by being given some coffee.Martin wasn't so keen but decided to have a go since we were here.The coffee was made with plenty of sugar, so it wasn't that bad.Marie would have liked just a black cup as well.Then we started walking round the plantation and talking with the guide.The area was heavily into organic farming and after going through the coffee crash in early 2000's, they are all learning and teaching about diversifying their produce to ensure the farms aren't only coffee dependent.Whilst being shown the coffee plants, we went through the process, all the way from the way lots of people come from all over Nicaragua to harvest the beans, how much they get paid, how children get involved to how they maintain the organic plants and how they determine the quality of coffee.It was really good as it was just us on the tour, we could ask everything we wanted to make sure we really understood.The farm we were at was also a big chicken (both eggs and meat) producer as well, so we were never too far from a load of chickens!
The tour went on for the entire morning and then we were taken to a local house to have lunch.We'd requested veggie for Marie and so we were all given veggie food.She turned out some really tasty food, with some soya, rice, beans and some local vegetables (yukka and some squash).Between us all we ate everything before heading back to Matagalpa.We really wanted to buy some coffee on the tour but we'd been told that they export nearly everything, only keeping a bit of the second grade coffee (they always sold the entire premium crop) for themselves.So they took us to a shop in Matagalpa where we could buy the coffee from these farms and we took the opportunity to do so.Then we went to the bus station and managed to get a bus, just leaving the station, back to Esteli.
Today we did nothing but sort out the bus to Honduras
It was time to leave.The day before we'd made the decision to take the Trans Nica bus to Tegucigalpa.It was a toss up between getting 2 chicken buses to the border and then one more up to Tegucigalpa, at a very minimal cost and arrive in the middle of the day or wait till 4pm for the Trans Nica and go direct to Tegucigalpa but arrive around 9pm and pay more.Normally it wouldn't matter about arriving at night but in most of Tegucigalpa they advise you not to even go out at night !!!
So we took the Trans Nica.We were told the bus would come at 4:30pm but to be at the petrol garage where it would stop by 4pm.We were making sure, so arrived around 3:45pm.The bus turned up at 5pm !!We wondered if it was coming for quite some time.
The bus was really good and the border crossing easy.They took our passports and basically got it sorted.We had to do nothing but collect our passport from the guard when our name was called.We arrived in Tegucigalpa around 9:30pm and immediately got into a waiting taxi to the hotel, only to realise that we'd be stung like nothing for the trip.It was a damn expensive taxi ride but we were there and there safely.Even after all this time we still pay too much at times!