San Jose

Trip Start Nov 30, 2003
1
6
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Trip End Jan 10, 2004


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Sunday, December 21, 2003

Nicaragua was a much nicer place than I had anticipated. I left Honduras on a local minivan packed with 15 people and all the bags they could pack into, and on top of the vehicle. Once they have managed to squeeze in as many as possible the van leaves. When you hear of an accident involving one of these vans, there are usually more injured or killed than you could imagine would fit into one. When you have people sitting on sacks of flour or rice in the aisles, and on others laps, then the numbers add up. Fortunately it was only a 35 minute ride to the border. When the van arrived, it was immediately swarmed over by money changers and guys with bicycle taxis to take us across the border to Nicaragua. I changed a bit of cash and then rode across the bridge on a 'taxi' to customs and immigration for Honduras and then Nicaragua. My taxi driver told me he would take me to a bus for Managua. The bus station consisted of several small food stands, and even fewer buses. He dropped me off next to a brightly colored vehicle that looked like it was shipped to Nicaragua after 30 years of use in the States as a school bus. There were many locals on board and of course, all their belongings. I was happy to see two other backpackers walk up and board just before we left for Managua. The two Dutch travelers and I shared stories during the 4 hour trip. This was a no frills bus. No A/C, no hostess, no frills at all. I have been on buses where there was a goat in the aisle, and chickens on the bus, but luckily this was not one of those times. I remember one time in South America looking across and seeing two chickens sharing a seat with their owner. I stared at one for a while, as this was something I wasn't used to seeing on a passenger bus. The chicken bobbed it's head and stared back, as if to say, " What are you looking at buddy" They do call them īchicken buses' for good reason. This bus wasn't in the best of shape. In places you could see the road beneath the floor! We traveled most of the way on rocky dirt roads that had us all covered in dust and grime by the time we arrived in Managua. I used a bandana as a filter for the dust. The seats were worn out completely and I felt it for days after. However, the views were spectacular, as we passed several volcanoes and gorgeous scenery along the way. Two of the volcanoes had smoke and gasses visible from the top. Once in Managua, we decided to catch another local minivan for the trip to Granada. Managua just didn't seem appealing after the journey. We arrived in Granada after dark and found a really nice Hostel with free internet and good clean rooms for $6 a night. It also has many hammocks around a garden in the center of the Hostel. I am becoming a serious hammock lounger. It is very relaxing to read or just swing and share travel adventures and stories with fellow travelers. Granada is a main stop on the backpackers route through Nicaragua. Itīs on the northern edge of Lake Nicaragua, and is a good stopping off point for other trips around the country. The town is also the main market for the surrounding area. When we got to our Hostel the town was almost deserted. By the time I got up the next day, it was so crowded you could barely walk the streets. Our Hostel was located just off the main market, so it was right near the middle of the action. People were selling everything imaginable. I saw a guy walking around with a mattress rolled up under each arm,offering them to everyone who passed. I once saw a guy selling a ceiling fan in Ecuador, and that is still the most unusual item I have seen offered in the street. The main food market was just around the corner, so I took a tour of that also. I got my usual cucumber, tomatoes, fruit and bread. I tend to stay away from meat in third world countries. Most of the meat products you see are unrecognizable, and are usually hanging in the open or lying on tables with flies either on the meat or hovering close by. Not very appetizing. We did find a good burger joint later that night, and if the meat is well cooked or frozen, I'll go for it. We had fries and cold beer also, and sat on a patio and watched the market close down for the night. I stayed here two days before getting on another local bus to Rivas, where I hoped to catch a ferry to the island of Ometepe, about an hours ride down the lake. I met an American on the bus who grew up in Costa Rica, and he and I traveled to the island together. Having someone who speaks fluent Spanish is a plus, as he got us a few deals that other tourists would have missed out on. The ferry ride over was interesting. It was an ancient ferry that leaked and creaked as we made our way across the lake. It took an hour to reach the island. The views were again spectacular. The island was formed by two huge volcanoes. One stands 5000 feet high, the other 4000 feet. Concepcion is active and has a nearly perfect conical shape. The smaller volcano, Maderas, is not perfectly shaped. It slopes down on one side, and is usually covered with clouds near the top, as is Concepcion. I couldn't stop looking at both as we came across. The lake is so big and the winds so strong, that it seemed we were on the ocean. Waves crashed into the side of the boat and spilled onto the deck and into the passenger cabin several times during the crossing.This trip is not for everyone. I made sure I was close to the side in case we were swamped! However we made it with no problems and found a nice guest house not far from port. We explored the town and asked around about guides for climbing the volcanoes. We chose to climb the smaller one because of the views it would have of the bigger one, and it also has a lake in the crater. The one we climbed had not erupted since the 12th century, while Concepcion last blew her top in the 50's. We were up at 5 for the ride to the lodge. We met three other Americans in our guest house the night before, and they joined us for the climb. Our guide said it would take around three hours to reach the crater and another two to get back down. It was a grueling 3 hours of climbing. About half way up we were in the clouds and everything was wet and slippery. We were all covered in mud by the time we reached the lake. I chose not to swim, but the others jumped in and rinsed off. I am going to have to get in serious shape for the Himalayas! This was a challenging hike but well worth it. There were many places to peek through the trees for great pics of Concepcion and lake Managua. We passed coffee and cocoa plantations along the way up, and heard from monkeys and assorted birds as we passed through their territory. It was a great experience, and we really enjoyed lunch and drinks at the lodge after the trip down. After one more night in Ometepe, we headed to the border and into Costa Rica. Costa Rica was by far the worst border crossing yet. We stood for three hours waiting for immigration and then customs to check our bags. After the delay we splurged on a bus with A/C for the 5 hour ride to San Jose. Not a real splurge, only $10 for the ride into downtown San Jose. Local buses sometimes drop you off far from town, so this was a good expenditure. Costa Rica is by far the most developed country so far. The change is apparent at the border. Nice homes, yards etc. Kent, the American I was traveling with called his parents to meet us at the depot. They gave me a ride to the backpackers hostel I am staying at now in downtown San Jose. On the way we talked about all kinds of things, and in the conversation, I told them my next door neighbor from my childhood was working in San Jose at a mission. They were also mission workers and asked me his name. When I said Larry Rockwell, his Mother almost jumped out of her seat. She knew both Larry and his wife! Small world. I am going to call Larry and see if we can get together before I leave San Jose. More soon. Allen
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