Monday, May 31, 2010

Updated map

Here is an updated map of the route that we have taken since the last time that I posted a map.  You can see that we are almost to the Costa Rican border.

Final thoughts on Ometepe

If someone told me that they could go to 1 place in Nicaragua, I would recommend Ometepe. There are so many beautiful spots on the island that you could move from hotel to hotel, each time feeling like you are in a whole new place...especially if you take this bus which is painfully slow and will make you feel as though you have gone a huge distance.

We found the people to be so nice and welcoming. Although the island is full of travelers, and tourism appears to be a large part of their economy, the island feels so untainted by tourism. In so many places, we feel like we are being taken advantage of or we feel like if we just could have seen the place 10 years ago, but Ometepe has this untouched beauty.

It felt extremely safe...dare I say...the safest place that we have visited. There are no armed cops or security guards. The hotels dont have night watchmen. Girls can walk on the beach in bathingsuits, with cameras, alone with very little worries.

We were sad to leave but our visa is quickly running out so we had no choice.

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Ometepe Frog Love

One of my favorite memories of Ometepe would have to be our nights at the beach....the full moon and its reflection on the water, the clouds over the volcano, the great cool breeze, and the FROGS! They are everywhere and croaking away. We had a blast walking the beach with the flashlight, trying to get the perfect pictures and laughing at the sheer number of them and their antics. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Written 5/30

We are still on this beautiful island but will be heading to San Juan del Sur tomorrow. We have enjoyed it so much. This is by far the best place in Nicaragua. The wildlife is incredible and the volcanos and water and temperatures are perfect.
Yesterday we had planned to move hotels to get a chance to see the rest of the island. When I awoke yesterday morning, though, something clicked in my head...$25 motorcycle rentals. I mentioned it to Rob and his eyes lit up. He immediately let us a few doors down to inquire about it. The guy there confirmed that his friend would rent us a bike for $25 for the whole day. Dont worry, mom, we insisted on a second helmet and both wore them the entire time. We had a list of places we would try to see starting with a waterfall and moving onto petroglyphs and then more beaches if possible. We headed down the road and quickly realized how terrible the roads here are. They are incredibly rocky and I was quickly bouncing around on the the back of the bike struggling to keep my butt on the seat and feet on the peddles. I kept reminding myself that little kids ride on these things here. We headed around the island toward San Ramon and the waterfall. We stopped a few times on the way to enjoy the scenery with the water on one side and the volcano rising up on the other side. We found the sign for the waterfall whose path starts at a hotel. They told us that we could drive 2km of the 3km trail and we headed up...and I mean up. We were so grateful for the bike since it was getting pretty hot outside...ok...I wasnt 100% grateful for the bike and did get off and walk on a few of the steep hills because I felt like I was going to fall of the back of the bike, but it sure did save us a lot of time on the hike. The last kilometer was more uphill walking and we finally made it to the falls that had seemed so far away when we caught a glimpse at the beginning of the hike. It was a bit dissappointing. We had hoped for a beautiful pool at the foot of the falls that we could immediately jump into to stop our sweating but no such luck. We enjoyed being at the top and did use some of the fresh cold water to cool off a bit but no swimming. I could tell that Rob was feeling antsy to get back on the bike and there wasnt even a fallen log to sit on so we headed back down to find some petroglyphs.
The ride was really cool. There are so few vehicles on the island. We passed people walking, riding bikes and a few other motorcycles. We had to ride through huge muddy puddles and herds of cows. Rob expertly avoided the pigs and cows and horses and people and we finally found the road to the petroglyphs. The glyphs are along a little road up to a hotel/restaurant and at the top we happily went into the restaurant for a late lunch. The view from the place was perfect...but sadly our burgers were not. The emaciated dogs got most of it so it wasnt a complete loss. Eventually we headed back towards the beach that our hotel was on and hopped off the road and onto the sandy beach. It was at this point that I told Rob that he could just drop me off and I would happily go for a swim and let him enjoy the rest of the time at full speed without me. I was tired from holding on to keep myself from flying off the back and the water was looking very inviting.
I know that Rob enjoyed the rest of his ride because he returned with a huge grin on his face. He swears that the day was right up there with the Roatan fishing trips.

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Finally a sunny day

Written 5/28
Ometepe is as great as everyone said it would be. After our fun night last night, we slept great. The temperatures are cool, our bed is one of the best in a long time. Not to hard..not to soft. We woke early this morning and hung around the hotel for a while...eating breakfast and talking to people. Most of the group from last night either left for Granada today or moved to other parts of the island.
We decided to check out Ojos de Agua, which the book said was some sort of swimming hole and that it was walking distance from the area that we are staying. We had a nice walk along the dirt road to the pool. The sky was blue and the sun was out..our first sunny day in a while. We passed cows being walked down the road and dirt bikes and buses and huge mud puddles. We got to the pool ready for a swim and it looked welcoming. The water was nice and crisp and we were told by the guy at the gate that the volcanic mineral water was great for all that ails us. We hung out there for a while, getting our $2 worth and eventually headed back to the beach and our hotel.
Other than that, we had a lazy day enjoying the hammocks and walking the black sand beach.

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Isle de Ometepe - Day 1

Today we feel like we have landed right back on the backpacker trail.  I'm not quite sure when we got off of it but I know that today we are on it.  We were on it for most of Guatemala and then in Honduras, for the most part, we felt like only a handful of backpackers in most of the places that we landed.  I think a lot of backpackers kind of skip most of Honduras, going only to Utila, the more backpackery of the bay islands when we chose to spend so much time in Roatan which tend to attract a different kind of travel.  Since we have arrived in Nicaragua, slowly but surely, we had been getting closer to the trail again. We have noticed more and more backpackers.  We tend to avoid the hostel scene so we have probably missed a lot of it because of that.  Whatever it is, today we landed right smack in it.

It started with leaving the Crater's Edge where we had spent the last 3 days.  Each day a couple of more people showed up:  only us the first night, another couple and a single girl the next night and then an additional guy the last night.  We all left this morning on the shuttle provided by the hotel and headed to Granada.  The couple and girl split off in Granada and we walked with the other guy to the bus stop in Granada to make our way to Rivas.  Rivas is the jumping off point for both San Juan Del Sur, the beach where the other guy was headed and to the Island of Ometepe, where we headed.

As we arrived at the bus for Rivas, we climbed on and slowly but surely other backpackers joined us on the bus.  It was by far the most gringos that we have seen on a bus ever.  99% of the time, we are the only gringos and I think today there were easily 7 other backpackers on the bus with us.  At Rivas, we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to the ferry.  We pulled up to the ferry, bought our tickets and went to a nearby restaurant for a coke to wait for the ferry to leave.  By this point, the majority of the travelers around were gringo backpackers.  Its always a little comforting to be able to hear English being spoken and to see the green covered Lonely Planet Central American on a Shoestring guide books being pulled out and discussed.

As 2:30 approached, we all walked down to the dock and got on the boat to head the short distance to the island.  Ometepe is easily visible from ferry dock and has such a distinct profile.  The island sits in Lago de Nicaragua which is a gigantic lake and the same lake that Granada sits on where we saw the isletas.  This island is made up of 2 volcanos next to each other and the island forms a sort of figure eight around the 2 neighboring volcanos.  From the dock we could see the 2 volcanos rising out of the lake with their peaks hidden in the clouds.  Luckily, the rain broke for most of the day although it was still pretty cloudy all day.

The ferry ride was pretty uneventful.  The boat was painfully slow, but our seat were upstairs and we spent the hour watching Tropic Thunder, listening to the other backpackers and watching the island slowly get closer through the window.  We could tell already that Ometepe is one of those places that backpackers meet up with people who they met in other spots earlier in their travels a lot like when we were in Guatemala running into "old" friends from previous spots.

We arrived on the island in the usual flurry of taxi drivers pressuring us to ride in their taxi.  We always try to shoo them away and take a few minutes to get our bearings before making any decisions.  I figured we would just take the bus which is always cheaper although I had heard that the buses on the island are painfully slow and we were getting pretty hungry.  Mostly we both had to pee so we found a restroom.  As we walked out the bus was just pulling away.  We were willing to wait but a tenacious cab driver really wanted to pull together a group of travelers to ride in his van.  We were coy but eventually we got a pretty good deal with 3 other girls and a couple.

We had him drop us off at Santo Domingo which is a beach area and we had been refered to the Buena Vista Hotel.  I'd spoken to a few people and continually were refered to 3 different hotels on the island which seem to be the big backpacker spots, this one, Hotel Merida and Finca Magdalena.

We checked out a couple of rooms and chose room number one, dropped our packs and found the comedor (small restaurant) next door for some much needed dinner.   After dinner, we came back to the hotel to check out the scene at the hotel and quickly started talking to some US Army guys living in Mississippi.  They had already been here a few days and were giving us the low down on what there is to do around here (hiking, petroglyphs, swimming, restaurants, horseback riding).  Some other people with a plethora of accents started joining the group which moved to the restaurant where we had eaten earlier and then to another restaurant for some drinks and great conversation until later in the night.  Everyone we talked to is moving in the opposite direction as us so we got some great information about places were we will be going and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with so many interesting people.  Its been months since we have had a night like this and it was a lot of fun.

I think that most of them will be moving on tomorrow so as usual, tomorrow will be a completely different day.  Hopefully, the rain will be at a minimum but the cooler temps will stick around.

So far this island is really great, rivaling any of the cool places that we have been already.  The hotel sits on a black sand beach and the wildlife is amazing.  On the 1 minute walk to dinner, we saw howler monkeys in the trees and some cool looking big birds with plumes on their heads which I dont think that we have seen before.  I hear that there are sharks in the lake which are unique to this lake although I dont think that the average traveler actually sees them.  

Quick check in post from San Juan del Sur

 Sorry for the lack of posts lately but we have been hanging out on an island with no internet access.  I have a ton to post about and emails to dig through.  Apparently we missed a lot in the world with the eruption of Pacaya!  I'm glad that we have internet here because now I am anxious to check in with our friends and family in Guatemala City.

More Later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rainy Days in Laguna de Apoyo

We are still here at the crater lake.  Its so peaceful here and today some other guests showed up.  Its a nice Dutch couple and its good to have more people.  It rained off and on all day so we were all pretty lazy.  We had a nice breakfast and lunch and played the "Is the rain really over???" game.  We lost every round but it has really cooled things off which has Rob and I very happy.  I'm even wearing my long pants.

I'll fill you guys in on the kinds of excitement that we have had here.

- Yesterday evening was apparently day 2 of a weird evening bug swarm.  Nobody knows what they are and they start around sunset and are gone just after dark.  They dont bite or anything but they do swarm around and if you swat at them, their wings fall off.  They fly down shirts and up shorts and it was actually pretty funny watching everyone do the bug-down-their-shirt dance.  The seem to be related to the rain and werent nearly as bad this evening.

- The guys who work here cut down a big branch with a big termite nest right next to the lodge at the top of the hill.  We even stopped our conversation with Anna, the owner to watch.

- The dutch couple came and while Rob and I were eating dinner down the street, another girl came but we haven't talked to her yet.

- The mangos are in season and they are constantly falling off the trees.  I dont think that one falling on your head would kill you but it would hurt pretty badly and probably make a mess of your hair.

- The monkeys have eaten their way down the hill and we saw a howler monkey today on the property eating mangos.  It was the first sighting of the season.

- I've seen some cool birds today...mostly mot-mots and I think I saw a toucan fly by.

Thats it for the news here.  As you can tell, life in the crater is pretty exciting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lago de Apoyo...Yay!

Now this is living....we are back in paradise. We had heard great things about this place...Lago de Apoyo. It is very close to Granada but light years away.

This lake is actually a volcano crater lake. This area is one big volcano and many, many years ago, instead of exploding, it imploded leaving this huge crater. The crater filled up with rain water making this beautiful lake. The water is sulphuric, apparently not enough to stink but enough to kill mosquitos and apparently eat away your sunscreen, so we were warned to reapply, reapply, reapply. Today is rainy so it shouldnt be too much of a problem.

We took the bus here, with some pretty negative attitudes. As we rode the bus, we realized that we had no idea where the Crater's Edge Hotel was and hopefully we were headed close to it. Just as I started to panic, Rob pointed it out. We got off the bus, feeling a bit lost. We saw a sign, and a closed gate. Then, this nice lady came out and asked if we needed a room. It only got better from there. The place is stunning and the people were so nice. Ok, we will be coming pretty close to our daily budget here but it will be worth it. Our room is very small, just big enough for the bed but there is no need to be in the room except for sleeping. The water is clean for swimming. There are free kayaks. There a rocking chairs, hammocks, hammock chairs, books, magazines, and free internet. We just ate lunch and it was delicious and we are already looking forward to dinner. So far, we are the only guests here which is just fine with us. The owner is this super friendly, talkative Canadian lady. We shared with her our negative feelings about granada and she agreed 100% so we dont feel so wierd about it. More later.

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Granada...what can I say? We hated it. Supposedly it is the jewel of Nicaragua but we thought it was a dump. I was psyched when I discovered a $10 hotel room that had great reviews. The room was huge and clean and right in the market area. And that was then end of the good things we found in the town. Yes, the central park and cathedral were very pretty. There were lots of good looking restaurants. The city smelled like garbage. It was extremely hot! For some reason our room was 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. Yesterday, I felt really sick and for the first time was actually considering going home. I was ready to spend $100 for a hotel room with air conditioning. I was very miserable and spent all day just lazing around feeling crappy. I'm generally such a positive traveler, trying to see the good in everything but I just didnt feel it in Granada.
OK, there was one cool thing in Granada. Granada does have these cool Isletas which we took a boat trip of yesterday morning. They were pretty cool. There is this volcano...Mumbacho...which has a cool name and it erupted a long time ago and spit out all the rocks into the lake, creating 365 little tiny islands. People live on the islands and you can take boat trips through them. Apparently, one even has monkeys living on it but we didnt see that one and I read that the monkey were brought there as a tourist attraction.

And that is all I have to say about Granada. It will forever be remembered by us as the place that we actually started considering going home.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Matagalpa Cemetary

This cemetary had caught our eye from the bus into town. My teacher suggested that we check it out and I'm glad we did. It was so colorful and different from the cemetaries that we are used to. It also offered a wonderful view of the town in the valley and the surrounding mountains.

Baseball is huge in Nicaragua!
All over Central America, we still see horses used for pulling carts. Of course, most people are very modern, with cars, motorcycles and cell phones but its nice to see this anachronysm.

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New Friends

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of this trip has been meeting other travelers and going to Spanish school is hands down, the best way to meet people. This is Carlos and Patrick, our new friends from Florida. Every year, they come to central america for a couple of weeks and are determined to learn Spanish.

The general opinion of the Matagalpans is that this Italian restaurant is the best restaurant in town so we had to check it out. It was delicious!
After dinner, we were seranaded by this mariachi band.

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School and Rain

I though I would post some pictures today. This is the mural next to the area that I was studying yesterday.
There was a huge downpour yesterday while we were at school. Thankfully, it was short but it really flooded the streets. It reminded me of Dallas during the rainy season.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Today we went on a tour of a chocolate factory!!! Anyone who knows me, knows that this was the perfect tour for me. The place was up in the hills and really beautiful. We learned all about how they make the chocolate and of course, the best part was getting to sample some yummy chocolate and brownies and even some raw roasted cocoa which was even delicious.

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We are really enjoying Matagalpa. It is a nice town and after being in Roatan, it is refreshing to be somewhere that feels real and not touristy. I'm glad that we chose to do our classes here. The school has a very nice feel and they make an effort to not only teach us spanish but to also teach about the area.

My teacher has figured out where my strengths and weaknesses are and has some great excercises that get me way out of my comfort zone. Her favorite excercise is to take me around and make me ask questions to everyone else in the school. I kind of hate it but it has helped me feel more comfortable talking to people and I've even gotten some great information about places that we should visit in Nicaragua.

My biggest challenge with Spanish is understanding when I am being spoken to. I've always been a very visual learner and reading spanish is not very hard for me. Today, she blindfolded me and led me around the school in Spanish. It actually really helped me to have to listen and understand directions.

Tomorrow is our last day of classes since the school is closed on Friday. We are meeting some of our fellow students for Italian food tonight.

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