04.24.2011 30 °C
We left La Fortuna early morning and made it to Los Chiles, at the border with Nicaragua at 11am. Everything went well despite the longish wait for a connecting bus on the way. Once in hot Los Chiles we headed towards the emigration office to get our exit stamps. After this we went to purchase the ticket for the boat that was going to take us accross the border. Unfortunately the person in front of us took the last remaining seat for the 12.30 boat and we were told that another boat would leave at 1.30. We bought the ticket and waited in this unpleasant town where everyone seemed to be quite rude. By 1.45, the guy from the boat came to us and gave us our money back as there were not enough passengers for his boat! We were told to wait for the hypothetical 2.30 boat (which never arrived) and finally boarded a boat at 4.30pm. What a waste of time and energy. The 1 hour boat ride was however very scenic along the river where we saw more king fishers than I ever saw in my life and many other species of birds as well as small indigenous villages by the river bank. Upon arrival in San Carlos in Nicaragua, the border official asked me if I would sell him my sun glasses, with a big grin on his face. The atmosphere was already more friendly and relaxed than in neighboring Costa Rica.
San Carlos is a busy river port with good connections to small villages along the Rio San Juan and to the nearby Lago de Nicaragua and its numerous islands. Our hotel hunt started unsucessfully with quite a few hotels that were fully booked. The only one we could find was a very basic room for US$7 for the two of us! We wandered the streets of this town for another hour before going back to that place as no room was available anywhere else. We got used showering with water buckets and flushing the toilets with buckets as well... The bed seemed more like a few wooden planks set next to eachothers and although we had a view over the lake from our window, we also had a view on the nearby night club playing loud music until 2am. That evening we met Michael from Texas with whom we decided to try to go to the nearby Solentiname Islands the following morning. Public transports to the island was only 2 days a week and private boats cost about US$120 for a day trip so we were not very hopeful to visit those islands.
After a good night sleep,.. we headed to the port with Charlotte and Michael in order to talk to fishermen to see if we could get a ride on a boat. We saw a boat full of tourists from Nicaragua at the dock and Charlotte went to ask the captain were they were heading to. Bingo! They were doing a day trip to the islands and agreed to let us on board for about US$10 each. This was the perfect scenario for once. We sat at the back and became the attraction of the day. People were curious to know what we were doing in Nicaragua. After a little chat in Spanglish, we got invited to stay in Chinandega. The agenda of the day tour was to spot various birds on the island Zapatilla, then explore San Fernando and Mancarron. San Fernando is a really small and relaxing island. We would have liked to spend the night there and explore further the island. We had only a couple of hours and decided to head to the museum, which did not tell much about the island but instead told us about the fishes of the lake Nicaragua that put you off from swimming. We then wandered a little while on a trail around the island where we could see a lot of tropical birds called Trogon.
Mancarron island was more inhabited than San Fernando and less attractive to us. Michael decided to settle there for a few nights. We wandered on the island and left him there. On our way back, we went down the Rio San Juan and spotted various birds and monkeys. A couple of fisherman families were also living there, some of them were cleaning the fishing net for the next day. San Carlos at night is not very attractive and it certainly does not invite people to walk around. We headed to the Kiosco for dinner. It first did not look very appealing but as it was recommended by our landlady and as we try not to judge a book by its cover, we decided to give it a chance. We had a really good fish, which completed this nice day.
The next morning, we headed to El Castillo, which is a small village by the Rio San Juan. The journey took about 3h00. We were impressed to see how small the village was. There was the main street by the river. We stayed at Hotel Neña, which is run by a family. The room are nice and not expensives. Neña also offers tours in the Indio Maiz reserve, which we did the following day with our new friends, Antoine, Zack and Rodolphe.
After about an hour down the river we put on the rubber boots and started a 3 hours hike through primary rainforest. There wasn't much to see but I was pleased to see numerous type of frogs, including the famous blue-jean frog with its red body and blue legs. We also saw a few more monkeys but honestly we've been seeing monkeys almost on a daily basis since Northern Colombia and it doesn't impress us that much anymore!
In the afternoon we just relaxed in the quiet and sleepy town of El Castillo planning the rest of our trip.
We initially thought that we would come back to San Carlos to get the Thursday ferry to Ometepe Island but after talking to Zack and Antoine, we decided to go with them down river to the town of San Juan del Norte on the Caribbean coast. As we took our decision late in the day, the fast boat was already full so we had no choice but to take the slow boat that was going to take about 10h in a small and packed river boat.
We got to the pier at 8.30am for the 9am departure but the boat did not arrive until about 10.30. As soon as we left, the boat broke down and we didn't actually leave until about noon. We were sitting on the only available space, a tough wooden plank! Luckily, after a couple of hours people were getting of the boat and we found more room and were finally able to enjoy the amazing jungle scenery with crocodiles, monkeys and birds. We arrived at the end of the world in San Juan del Norte at dusk for some fantastic sunset scenery in the mangrove next to the Caribbean sea. Upon arrival we enquired about the boats to Bluefields, the only way to get out of San Juan, and found out that we would have to spend 2 nights there waiting for the Thursday morning boat.
We hired a young local guide with a boat to take us around the area for half a day and enjoyed swimming at the mouth of the river next to the sea.
In the afternoon I went fishing and called for help within minutes of starting as I had a mid sized fish at the end of my line and I didn't want to touch it!!
It is without regret that we left the next day on a small boat packed with about 15 people for a 4 hours journey in high sea. It is with relief that we finally arrived in Bluefields, some of us drenched (Charlotte) or sun burnt (Zach). We however found out that there was no ferry until the following day to take us to Corn island. We had to spend a night in dodgy Bluefields.
It was an interesting experience. People here on the coast are very different from the rest of the country. They are usually of African origins and speak more English than Spanish. The town is allegedly not really safe at night so we took a taxi to an excellent seafood restaurant with our growing number of friends who we met during our amazing journey down the river (Zach, Antoine, Sabela, Miguel and Christine). The next day we were finally on the boat to Corn Island, the place we had all dreamt to get to for over a week.
After beeing burnt alive by the sun during 5 hours we arrived on Great Corn Island and waited a couple of hours to board another boat to take us to our final destination: Little Corn island, which is smaller, traffic-free and has nicer beaches than big Corn. Christine, Zach and Antoine took a very cheap 3 bed room near the pier, the bars and restaurant, whereas Sabela, Miguel, Charlotte and I looked for a small cabin to share on the beach on the other side of the island. For US$10 each we had found our little piece of paradise 10 meters away from the turquoise water from the Caribbean sea surrouded by palm trees.
We spent 4 nights here enjoying the excellent sea food, rhum, amazing weather and beautiful scenery. It felt like we were again on holiday from our holiday. The main fact worth describing in more details was our snorkelling experience. Although the marine life and coral reef was less impresssive than in Costa Rica, we saw and swam with numerous sharks. First we saw a lot of sleepy nurse sharks in clear water at the bottom of the see and when we went into deeper water we were soon noticed that we were swimming among a group of at least 5 hammerhead sharks (requin marteau), which we could see from above within a few meters from us.
Zach, Antoine and Christine decided to leave the island on Monday and hopefully they managed to catch a boat unlike charlotte and I who were left stranded at the pier the following morning with no boat to take us back to Bluefields. We had been told that there would be regular ferrys during the holy week but we were left with no other choice than to get a cab to the airport and ask about flights to the capital, Managua. At the airport we were told that the next flight was full but that there would be another one 20 minutes later! We bought the ticket for about US$100 each and within a few minutes boarded the plane with only another 4 passengers.. In no time we got to Managua, took a taxi to the colonial town of Granada and had checked-in our hotel. Everything seemed to have gone really fast that morning from the tropical paradise on Corn Island to the busy colonial town of Granada.
We only spent a full day in Granada but that was enough to see the main sights and enjoy some good food and drinks in one of the many restaurants lining the main street in the old town.
On the next day we travelled to the Island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua. The island is famous for its two cone shaped volcanoes, Conception and Maderas, and we were intending to climb one of them.
In the afternoon on the first day we rented bicycles and did a 40k loop along the coast from where we had many different views on the Conception volcanoe and we could also observe a lot of very pretty birds called Magpies jays, which are everywhere on the island.
On the next day we joined a group 5 Danish guys, one English (Mickael), one Spanish and one Mauritian in an attempt to climb the Conception volcanoe at 1650m above sea level. Charlotte and 2 others had decided to climb up to 1000m to the view point just above the forest but the rest of us had decided to try to get to the top. After about 2 to 3 hours uphill and going through a steep ascent in the forest teeming with birds and monkeys, we finally reached the first view point.
The walk wasn't particularly pleasant nor easy as the terrain was rocky at times and very dusty. Seven of us decided to attempt the final ascent but after a few minutes one Danish guy and Mickael dropped out and decided to turn back. The climb was very steep, on volcanic rocks and very dusty and slippery.
The wind was getting stronger and we couldn't see much more than a few meters away because of the early morning mist. We could also smell the sulphur from the smoke of this active volcanoe. After a few more minutes we were just 2 left in the ascent and finally just me and the guide as well as Tom, a French traveller who attempted the ascent without a guide. We made it to the top but the wind was so strong that we were getting hit by small gravels in our face and the clouds prevented us to see the crater.
We quickly turned back to start our perillous descent. We fell down a few times and got covered in volcanic dust. Tom and I started to run down to catch up with the guide who had left us in his attempt to catch up the Danish guys, who he feared might leave without paying him! All in all I hiked for about 6h30 without much rest and I was quite relieved when it was finally over. I wouldn't really recommend this hike to anyone unsure about their physical condition but even when fit, the walk wasn't pleasant at all.
We left Ometepe on Good Friday and shared a taxi to Matagalpa with Michael. Matagalpa is in the Northern highlands and his surrounded by cloud forest and coffee plantations. Everything was closed on Good friday and the town looked dead. We didn't do much. We just recovered from the hike, had some nice food in the only open restaurant we could find and finished the day sharing a bottle of Flor de Cana rhum...
On the next day we went to the private reserve, Selva Negra, where we spent half a day walking in the forest. Michael injured his knee during the volcanoe climb so left Charlotte and I who were doing a longer hike. We we met again 2 hours later, Michael showed us his photos of monkeys and toucans whereas Charlotet and i didn't see any animal at all. I was gutted !! we came back to Matagalpa at the back of a pick-up truck (for free) and started planning the rest of our trip. We decided to spend a couple of nights in Leon before getting a direct bus to Tegucigalpa in Honduras.
Nicaragua has been one of the best countries we have visited so far, especially the Rio San Juan area and the Caribbean coast. People were very friendly and we felt really safe here. There are still a few areas that we haven't explored,which might be the reason to come back to this great country in the future.