Welcome to the Jungle
Trip Start Apr 19, 2013
15Trip End Feb 19, 2014
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We got on the ferry at around 6pm after having paid extra for a ticket ┤with chair┤. This was a very interesting journey which would take us through the night, on an open topped ferry where we slept on deck chairs and arrived at around 6am next morning. As soon as the ferry began moving, we knew we were in for a cold night. I changed into my warmest clothing and had my travel towel over me as a blanket. After a couple of hours of terrible sleep, I realized that more warmth was needed so moved my chair to an area with less wind and got into my sleeping bag inner liner (we didn┤t bring actual sleeping bags, just inner liners that are enough for times like this!)
The journey up river was stunning as the downpour abated and we got to see our first glimpse of jungle! The reason for wanting to travel here was really to get as deep into untouched jungle as we could which is why the travelling took so much time and planning. We wanted to have the opportunity to witness the incredible wildlife and ecosystems of the jungle of Central America before the opportunity would be gone due to industrial development or over commercialization of the area. While researching this part of the trip, we had already found information about future plans for the area which made us incredibly sad, including plans to build a road alongside the river (the river cuts right through the heart of the jungle) and even the plan to possibly use the river for industrial cargo ships, to haul goods from China into the middle of Central America.
Anyway, with this in mind, we made our journey by boat further up the Rio San Juan and closer to the heart of the Nicaraguan Jungle
Arriving in El Castillo, we were welcomed by a very pretty town topped by a high primitive fort which gave the town its name. Later on in our stay here, we went to visit the town┤s museum and find out more about the local history, which was really amazing. The fort was built in the effort to defend mainland Nicaragua from the real deal Pirates of the Caribbean who would use the Rio San Juan as a passage directly to Grenada - a city of treasure and delights! El Castillo was built right on a bend in the river, next to the ┤devils rapids┤ which would have been nature┤s way of stopping the pirates in their tracks. How incredible to be stood in the fort, looking out onto the river where the battles of the pirates really took place. We even went into the dank jails where captured pirates languished!
Anyway, back to our trip; we arrived in El Castillo and headed to the beautiful Nena Lodge
Back on the boat, we headed to the drop off point for the jungle walk. Heading out of the boat and into the jungle was a amazing. The trees were so dense and thick that you felt as if you were indoors. The humidity was very high and although it was raining, so few drops actually touched your skin due to the density of the tree canopy. We were actually so pleased that it was raining as we were in a rainforest after all and the sound of the gentle rain mixed with the noises of the jungle was really beautiful. Our little safety talk on entrance to the jungle was pretty intimidating; don┤t touch ANYTHING, it may be poisonous or something may be on it that will bite you! Apparently, huge tarantulas wait next to the most beautiful flowers waiting for a hummingbird to visit and then.....*shudder*. The guide didn┤t have to worry - we understood perfectly!
We began the walk through the jungle and the guide showed us lots of really interesting plants and trees. Some trees were incredibly intelligent and had the ability to actually walk their roots to be closer to water - they call them walking trees
After walking a little way through the jungle, the guide stopped, looking up into the trees and hurriedly ushered us forward. Initially, I thought he had spotted a monkey, but it turned out to be a white anteater - an incredibly rare find! We watched the anteater curl its long tail round a branch and sniff around, scouting for a meal. Again, he was so high that we could only see him through binoculars but it was still such a magical thing to see. The guide told us we had good energy to be able to see so much wildlife! We didn┤t see any further animals in this part of the jungle, but we got to walk for about 3 hours and see many different types of trees - the jungle really was beautiful. Robbie was especially pleased that we had trekked through the jungle and he still hadn┤t seen any snakes - they obviously felt his negative vibes towards them.
After the walk, we got back into the boat and headed to some smaller rivers to see some wildlife around these parts. We saw lots of huge iguana┤s - probably the best part of a meter with tail
A little further down the river, we had the opportunity to swim which I was the only person to take up. It wasn┤t really a proper swim because the water was too shallow but it was refreshing and a great experience to dip in the river in the jungle and the guide had PROMISED there would be no camen here!
Next, we headed to an archeological site of a steamship, whose wrecks had formed an island in the middle of the river
From here, we headed back to El Castillo - we were absolutely shattered and pretty muddy, but we were so pleased with our tour and the way we had been able to see the darkest jungle (and lots of wildlife too). On the way home, we passed howler monkeys shrieking in the trees and even saw a couple of Toucan - which Robbie was very pleased about.
While we were on our trip, the guide was talking to us about tourism in the region and how the government was trying to promote eco-tourism in the jungle. There were really very little tourists in this area and we knew before arriving that it was off the beaten track due to the difficulty in planning and finding out information. However, I believe that this was one of our most magical experiences and the Rio San Juan has so much to offer. They have it set up well for eco-tourism too as only a tiny sliver of the jungle is open for exploration. 95% of it remains proper, dense, unexplored jungle where you need a folders worth of legal papers to allow you to do research
Once back in El Castillo, we spent the afternoon and following morning enjoying the rest of what the town had to offer. This included tasting the most magnificent smoothie - made with frozen banana and cocoa beans - intense but delicious. We also tasted river camerones (shrimp) which were delicious. We had a trip to a butterfly sanctuary where we watched huge butterflies and even held one (apparently, when they are the size of saucers, it doesn┤t hurt to touch them!).
Next day, we headed back down the river, in order to stop off at a lodge in the middle of the jungle. As lovely as El Castillo was (and necessary to be able to access the section of protected jungle), we really wanted to spend some time in a very remote area of the jungle. There are a couple of well-established lodges on the river; however they come at a high price
After a simple but delicious lunch, we spoke to Jearo (the father of the family and manager of the lodge) about the activities we could do in the lodge. He said he could take us fishing and when we asked how much, he said completely free which was incredible. The other lodges all had wonderful activities but they came at a price so it was wonderful that we were able to do these things. An hour later, Jearo came past our caba˝a with bamboo fishing rods and said ┤┤listo?┤┤ (which means ┤┤ready?┤┤) - well OK then! He took us to a battered little boat, with mud patching holes in the bottom, which we had to empty of water before we got in
That night, we ate our fish by candlelight (there had been a power cut) and it was a wonderful evening until the mosquito┤s turned up in the THOUSANDS. We escaped to our room where we had a really ingenious net which was shaped like a box over the bed, so the netting wasn┤t quite so claustrophobic. Saying that, we had the candle on a chair by the bed and the chair was still holding our beautiful floral decoration which I couldn┤t bear to throw away, so laying in our dark purple box bed, with floral arrangements lit by candlelight, I said I felt like I was laying in wake at my own funeral! We slept well that night and didn┤t get molested by the mosquitos.
In the morning, we had breakfast and then Jearo took us horse riding. It was only a short ride and probably for the best as our horses clearly knew we didn┤t have a clue what we were doing and were being very naughty until Jearo rode up and gave them a little slap on their backside! We saw some beautiful scenery during the ride. At one point, Jearo motioned for Robbie to go first and gave his horse a great smack to get him running - it was hilarious to watch as the horse ran forward and sank down to his belly in muddy water while Jearo and I laughed watching Robbie try and keep his legs above water
Later that afternoon, Jearo took us along with a Belgian couple to look for birds in the jungle. We saw some lovely birds and some monkeys too; however we were absolutely mauled by mosquitos. There were thousands buzzing around us at all times and although we had covered ourselves in repellent, they were still landing on our bare skin and biting us through clothes. We all looked cartoonish stood looking up at monkeys and swatting ourselves continuously all over. This is the only time when it is alright for a near stranger to reach out and slap you clean across the face - ┤┤got him┤┤ they say! After dinner that night, (where we got eaten alive again), we counted the damage - we were both pretty chewed up but to give you an idea, Robbie had over 40 bites on his back alone.
Next day, we were taken on a tour of the cacao plantation that the family had set up. This was very interesting but unfortunately, we had to receive the translated version as Jearo┤s Spanish was too much for us to understand. One of the most interesting points was that when the Spanish came over to Central America, they found that the most precious thing to the locals wasn┤t gold or treasures, but chocolate. In discovering chocolate, the Spanish decided to take the cacao over to Africa to plant, where it acclimatized very well
We had loved the trip to the jungle in all its wonderful wildness, but after a week (and after battling a cockroach out of my toiletry bag) we were happy to head back to some civilization!
On the morning we left, we caught a glimpse of a giant river otter while waiting for our boat, a really rare site and a lovely goodbye from the jungle! We took the boat back to San Carlos, where we took another boat to Los Chiles - the border town of Costa Rica on the Rio San Juan. This has got to be the best border crossing of all - a beautiful, calm hour long boat ride and a very relaxed entrance to Costa Rica!
Next was a fast paced travel through Costa Rica and Panama (we would love to explore both places but time and money pressures mean we prefer to explore one country well rather than explore a lot of countries badly) and as relaxed as the border crossing to Costa Rica was, the crossing into Panama was the most stressful (well not quite as bad as the states but almost!)
Next up is a sailing trip to Colombia!
Next time I blog, we will be in South America! Adiˇs! xx