Alrightski, I am going to guide you through the Coffee/Sandinista stronghold of Matagalpa, to the tiny Corn Islands in the Caribbean signing off In San Juan Del Sur our last port of call in Nicaragua before heading to Costa Rica (country # 6) after a couple more days of surfing.
We came to Matagalpa to learn more about coffee and get off the beaten traveler trail a little bit. We both really liked the vibe of the place. I don't think I was offered an ornamental flute or a bootlegged DVD the entire time I was there, meaning that Matagalpans have their own s*** to get on with but they are content to welcome outsiders in for a look. Matagalpa turned 150 yrs. old on Valentine's Day; the occasion was marked with a street party featuring traditional Nica music, Raggaton and the Black Eyed Peas. Curiously the 'Nicas' have an insatiable appetite for Hollister and American Eagle clothing with plenty on parade at the party. I expected a little more reticence towards American culture here given the recent political history. In the 80's President Reagan funded the 'Contras' a group of fighters based in Honduras and Costa Rica whose mission was to oppose the Socialist movement in Nicaragua. At one point it was discovered that the CIA were selling weapons to Iran in order to bankroll this, hard to imagine today. One local guide pointed out a possible explanation in that most youngsters either don't know or care about the history of their country, perhaps a blessing in disguise and something which has inadvertently helped society here to move forward.
One and a half hours vacuum packed into a 'chicken bus' headed further north and we arrived at Jinotega, the location of the Soppexca Coffee Cooperative. Supposedly Soppexca turn out some of the best coffee in Nicaragua, after a shot of their silky espresso we both concurred and headed back to Matagalpa with a bag of beans we intend to smuggle back into the UK for lazy weekend mornings. Matagalpa was also our first introduction to the excellent Nicaraguan Flor De Cana rum which the locals order by the bottle and who are we to argue. Flor De Cana started out as a Sugar Cane plantation in the 1800's and at some point in the early 20th century the Rum business was officially born, prior to that it was produced purely to celebrate the harvest. Flor De Cana claim to have the oldest rum reserves in the world, an inadvertent consequence of the revolution during which time it was difficult to shift for obvious reasons. We have a nice little bottle of the 18 year vintage tucked away for lazy weekend mornings.
The morning after the Matagalpan birthday celebrations we hightailed it back to the Nicaraguan capital Managua to catch a flight out to the Corn Islands on a small prop plane. After 4-5 bottles of Tona lager and a Lorazapam I was excited about/oblivious of the journey. We came to the Corn Islands to dive and did not leave disappointed. During our stay we were able to tick a Hammerhead Shark off the list and I also got to experience a seriously unnerving tunnel/cave dive. Two of our fellow divers, Will and Toyah, actually own a dive shop on Jersey (they specialize in WW2 wreck dives and can also arrange scallop diving). This came in especially handy when I felt my air tank floating around somewhere near my feet on one dive and Toyah came to my rescue. It was also very reassuring to have Will checking back to see if I was ok during the 15-20 mins we spent winding our way through enclosed coral tunnels. Diving feels unnatural at the best of times but add to that the fact that you are trapped in an enclosed tunnel and it gives things an extra edge. It was a great feeling to get out though having also ticked off a few more species of fish on my 'Reef Guide' (including Glassy Sweepers and a Palometa). Apparently we passed a Nurse Shark in one of the tunnels at one point but I was too busy looking for the exit to notice. The Hammerhead Shark dive was also pretty unique in that the visibility was ~5m. We descended to 25m and sat waiting for the unmistakable silhouette of a Hammerhead to glide out of the murkiness, a large 2.5m male duly obliged but didn't hang around once he realize we were not food, or at least that we didn't take his fancy on this occasion.
From the Corn Islands we travelled further south to Ometepe, the largest fresh water island in the world (according to Hannah which probably means it's about the 3rd or 4th largest). The Island is a volcanic formation in the middle of what was a large Pacific flood plain but is now more of a lake. Our 'home from home' was the Charco Verde Nature reserve, bustling with Howler Monkeys, exotic birds and German tourists. Ignoring a sacred promise I made to my Mother some time ago, we rented a motorbike and bombed around the Island for a couple of days checking out petroglyphs, playas and monkeys. No major accidents to report Mother but rather a series of low level injuries including a burnt ankle, grazed 'clutch hand', bruised top of gear changing foot and stiff back from humping the thing into neutral every time I stalled it.
After 3 days we took a Ferry/Taxi combo to San Juan del Sur and from here we have been heading back and forth to Maderas beach every day for me to hone my surfing skills. After a couple more days of practice I have definitely come on leaps and bounds, although every now and then the Ocean rolls me around, puts me on my arse and makes me swallow a good dose of salt water to remind me who is in charge. My main motivation for advancing to the next level is that I will be able to ditch my colossal, foam 'loser board', for something a little sexier. The oversized brute caught a gust of wind today and smacked me round the head as I popped out of the water, I actually saw stars for a minute and had to have an extra beer over lunch to take the edge off. Despite the physical exertion which I enjoy and along with mastering the balance, there is definitely a spiritual side to it, sitting on your board waiting for the next wave to make its way to you from a storm system however many hundreds of miles away. Early on today a strong sea breeze was spraying water off the top of each wave as it broke, a couple of times as I floated behind on my board this produced a miniature rainbow and who doesn't love a rainbow.
So, that's it for now, tomorrow Costa Rica for some zip-lining and more wildlife spotting before we make our way to Panama City and then Cartagena Colombia for the start of our South American adventure…….