There's No Camping at The Gates of Hell

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, January 12, 2007

Increasingly aware that DC3's water pump might leave us stranded at any time, we pressed on to Liberia in search of a replacement. As we neared the city, we couldn't help but notice the huge billboards plastered along every available stretch of the highway. Everything from car rental agencies, to luxury beach resorts and American fast food joints. But perhaps more significant were the advertisements for state-of-the-art condominiums, luxury estates for sale, and offers for financial assistance to foreigners for purchase of real estate.

The rampant economic colonization of Central America had already been very apparent to us in Panama, especially in areas like Boquete which is fast becoming a mini America. Lured south by the ideal climate, cheap land costs and almost zero tax rates, wealthy North Americans and Europeans alike - with a lot of help from the real estate speculators - are destroying the pristine forests in order to haphazardly develop tourist hotels, restaurants and residences at an astounding pace. This "development" is seemingly progressing with the blessing of the Panamanian government, but at what future cost?

Costa Rica has unfortunately not escaped this deluge, as American investors and retirees are buying up land to build Hollywood-type castles, monstrous beach resorts and massive shopping complexes. While in Liberia, we made it a point to ask some of the Ticos what they thought about it all. Naturally there are some who currently benefit greatly from the increased tourism dollars, but others were more insightful and feared that their country has already been virtually given away. When the cost of a small foreign-owned B & B has quadrupled over the past three years, what chance does an average Costa Rican have to enter the business world?

Enough of this doomsday meandering, and back to our own reality! Our goal in Liberia was to find a replacement water pump for DC3, but by day's end we sadly realized that none was to be had in the entire country. Not quite ready to give up and pay the $300 FedEx charges to have one sent from Canada, we decided to continue north to Nicaragua and try our luck there. But we thought a bit of down-time was in order first, so we spent the next three days camping in Santa Rosa National Park - a tropical dry forest environment. Away from all the fast-paced developments surrounding us, we enjoyed the tranquility, the deer who wandered through the campsite, the crested jays flying past, the giant iguanas in the branches overhead, and even the huge ugly toad in the toilet!

After an extremely relaxed and easy border crossing, we made our way to a shady spot on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. With a clear view of the Isla de Ometepe and its two stunning volcanoes, we stopped long enough for lunch, coffee and the inevitable game of Scrabble. But this was Scrabble with a difference - a few young boys who had been swimming in the lake came over for a visit and were intrigued by the game, so it quickly turned into Scrabble in Spanish!

The water pump had basically given up the ghost by the time we reached Masaya, so we checked into a hotel and prepared ourselves for a lengthy stay. But miracles do still happen. After numerous phone calls, we located the exact water pump at a parts shop near Managua that advertises "we have what you couldn't even imagine". By three the following afternoon, a local mechanic had installed the new pump, and we were again declared fit to travel.

Back on the road and running smooth as silk, we headed for the Masaya Volcano National Park. One of Nicaragua's main tourist attractions, this park encompasses the two volcanoes of Masaya and Nindiri with their five formidable craters. Most impressive by far is the Santiago Crater, created in 1852 and still continuously smoking and steaming. Standing at the edge and gazing downwards into the crater, we could vividly imagine the indigenous people throwing human sacrifices into the boiling lava to appease the angry gods who must surely be causing the eruptions. The Spaniards later baptized the crater "The Gateway to Hell" and erected a cross on a hill high overhead in order to exorcise the devil who lived there.

We had hoped to spend the night camped beside the crater, in order to see the playful parakeets that come to feed in the late afternoon, and the wildlife that is mainly nocturnal. Unfortunately though, we had to leave when the park closes as 5 pm. In fact, the park authorities enforce some rather strict regulations such as parking your car facing downhill for a quick getaway, suggesting that you hide under your car if there happens to be an explosion of red hot rocks, and limiting your stay in the crater area to twenty minutes. Reluctantly, we retreated to the official camping area next to the very well set up and informative Visitor's Centre. All the staff had left for the night, so we were left alone with the multitude of stars and the quietness of night.....except of course for the intermittent crackle of fireworks coming from Masaya where everyone was celebrating the inauguration of their new President, Daniel Ortega. Well, perhaps not everyone. Not a single person we spoke with had anything positive to say about the election, and felt that Ortega won the presidency only because of a split in the Democratic parties. Time will tell!
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