5 weeks in Nicaragua

Summer 2012 – 5 weeks in Nicaragua – our blog is below.

Signing out with 5 Bullet Points

Ralph: We’re back in Managua and flying home today. First warm shower in 5 weeks. Virtually every item of clothing we have is either wet or damp. Gradually getting the volcanic ash out from between our toes.

Lisa (whistling) and girls in Leon

[1] We can do it – backpack – together en famille ! But as we do love to move from place to place, and don’t tend to recharge much, it can be tiring.

[2] We’ve loved the loose cameraderie of the backpacker circuit – continually bumping into people we know – sharing info and transport…

[3] Great exploring a new part of the world (yes, we can all draw a map of Central America now), and seeing the girls getting to grips with a basic Spanish.

[4] Highlights have been camping atop an active volcano, catching big fish in muddy rivers winding through rainforests, being bombed by bats on a road covered in giant toads.

[5] We’ve seen lots of new birds, butterflies and caterpillars – still not sold on gallo pinto (refried beans) but hooked on hammocks…

Up the Volcano without a Paddle

Lisa: We arranged to go on a guided overnight hike up volcano El Hojo near Leon. We could have hiked it ourselves but decided to go with a guide as we did not have any of our own camping equipment.

As we set off, we knew we’d not scored well with our guide Oscar, when he pointed out the natural features of the landscape including (I kid you not) clouds and cows. Oh my how he did annoy us.

We walked for three hours and reached a stunning place to camp at the top. Views of other volcanoes, craters, lagoons, Lake Managua and lush green forest as far as the eye could see.

One can see lava inside the craters of some volcanos nearby, but our volcano had a hole with sulfurous steam coming out. We hiked a bit to look at the hole – it was totally profound to all be there together. What an amazing year we have had.

Then we went to set up camp. We discovered we had no bed mats or sheets provided (when we’d asked Oscar if we had mattresses he’d said ‘yes’… but thought we’d said matches).

That we could handle. But! The ‘tent’ we’d been provided with, had no fly sheet. (Note: It’s the rainy season with torrential rain almost every night). Instead Oscar had a long thin sheet of holey plastic to put over the tent shell, and (I kid you not) MASKING TAPE to stick it all together.

Whilst deciding whether to walk back down the volcano right there and then, my eyes alighted on… Oscar’s tent. So our family of four crammed into a leaking one man tent, leaving Oscar bivouacked against the storm.

Luckily we had hysterics (well, Ralph, Bea and Mila – I had a *TSOHL) falling asleep in our tiny tent (see photo left above). Mainly centered around how curiously hard cow poos can feel as a mattress. It was just last night….so we did survive it…!! And already laughing at the memory…

*Total sense of humour loss

Film San Carlos-Assedores-El Hojo

The film below shows our flight from San Carlos to Managua (the plane came to pick us up!), the beaches near Aserradores and our camping hike up El Hojo volcano. For the record, when you’ve hiked alone for a few hours and you find yourselves standing over a live volcano vent (that’s as deep as a few hundred wells) that is spewing steam and sulphur (hence making it feel like some kind of creature), is a very, very profound experience.

Ralph is Magic

Ralph has just hung a washing line across the central square of San Carlos. To me, magic.

Proof that Ralph is magic (El Castillo).

New Film: El Castillo on the Rio San Juan

For Toffee

The girls are independent – eg. they will just hang out at a table, doing ‘stuff’ in in between times. So I am each time surprised that they still ask our permission for some small thing – “How many toffees can I have?” and that our word is still law. At the same time they can totally ignore (well, ignore is too weak a word for it – rather “exist in their own parallel space and time“) our requests, if they have a better idea.

At least Twenty Five Juans

Extremely lovely brothers Juan and Manuel took turns guiding us, in our two days in el Castillo. Juan told us there are 25 Juans in El Castillo (population 2000). Many have distinguishing nicknames – charming Juan, Naughty Juan, Healer Juan. He was Squirrel Juan (short straw!), because of his (formerly) bushy hair.

We named Mila after Naughty Juan – Mila Bandida.

We packed in a lot of stuff – two fishing trips + swimming in the river upstream + a canoe trip + a guided hike through the Indio-Maiz rain forest reserve + nighttime boat trip to try (and fail) to find caimans (smallish crocodiles). It rained a lot in between and during.

None of us had walked in a rain forest before. We saw two extraordinary birds – a manakin and a two grey necked wood rails – as well as tiny poisonous frogs. Manuel broke into a small Assassin Ant nest – quel hombre! and told us that one bite will make you very sick, two may even kill you. We felt small and squelchy in the mud. Mila’s boots (rented) had holes in them. Manuel commented that our girls are very strong.

Monsieur Cocodrilo

Lisa: It is strange to say but our perfectly clean, fresh wonderful hotel in El Castillo, run by Hemma, has a big cocodrilo (actually a caiman – smaller and apparently muy timide relative but who can resist the word cocodrilo?) hanging out under its riverside stilts. When the girls first saw him from our bedroom window, I ran to the deck and found the words to shout in perfect Spanish (told you it was latent) to some boys swimming in the river, that a big crocodile was bathing nearby. Much laughter, no corrective action taken.

El Castillo, at this moment

Lisa: Travelers fall in love with Nica and her people. This moment in Nicaragua’s development is really precious – accessible but not overdeveloped. We felt this very much at El Castillo.

Trying to describe this moment…
The vegetation here is mas o menos untouched and unbelievably gorgeous. Toucans, parrots, flycatchers, kingfishers, swallows and lots of noisy Montezuma Oropendola! (Ralph: Feels like Maun felt (frontieresque) in the mid-1980’s)

There are enough fish in the river to feed all the locals and tourists (selling of fish is prohibited) and make Ralph a very very happy hombre. We ate our own caught fish for breakfast and supper tonight.

The transport infrastructure is basic but improving. And – no roads to get here yet = no cars.

The paved walkways are cleaned of poo. Pigs are tied up and dog breeds are, somewhat surreally, recognisable.

Although there is a sound tourist infrastructure, pretty much no English is spoken by the locals. Having to speak Spanish makes a huge difference. btw Bea talks in her sleep. Although it wakes us all most nights, at least we know from her exclamations- she’s started to dream in Spanish! And sometimes I feel as if I have the whole Spanish language in me, ready to pop up and out one day, perfectly formed, like a turtle from muddy water.

People have been so good to us, so…personable (is there a better word…how low our expectations that to be a person is commendable these days.) There is not enough money flowing in for grubby, grabby materialism to manifest yet.

We’re at the red X on the map below.

Obviously it’s not uncomplicated – rows of quite sweet round red Claro! satellite dishes all face east on the rooftops, pretty much the exact direction Spanish canons would have faced to ward off pirates from the Caribbean a few hundred years ago. Parrots perch on the big satellite tower in the picturesque cemetery on the top of the hill.

El Castillo is the last town before the Rio San Juan meets the gnarly Caribbean. The pressures of development are pretty inevitable, forging their course downstream. In the meantime…we beat on, boats against the current…? (My spatial awareness is not great – god knows I struggle with currents, upstreams and downstreams… but…you know…)