San Juan del Sur – Day 3

At 6:45 Cooper wakes me up. The boat is leaving in 15 minutes, he says. Get up. I nod, in a hungover stupor, and go back to bed. Half an hour later, Jessie Chela comes back. We’re leaving, are you coming? He says.

Fuck.

Cyn and I stumble out of bed and try to suit up as quickly as we can. We’ve lost any possibility to even rent surfboards, but we manage to make it out to the pier, breaking out into a run 3/4s of the way out. As we reach the dock, we see the boat pulling further away.

“Hey! Hey!” we yell back at them. We are more than half an hour late and they have to turn the boat around to come get us.

The hour it takes to get to the first beach is brutal in the morning sun. I sit on top of the cooler and want to die. When we reach the beach, Playa ? Jessie Chela is the first to toss his board overboard and cannonball out. Everyone else follows out of the small fishing vessel powered by a Yamaha motor. The scene is irrevocably, undeniably beautiful. Floating listlessly on a small fishing boat off the coast of the Pacific.

off the Pacific coast
off the Pacific coast
Chela and Alex
Chela and Alex

Almost everyone has a surfboard or boogie board of some sort.. Except Cynthia and I, stranded and hungover on the boat. We watch the surfers swim towards shore to catch waves. I am upset but it’s my own damn fault. I sit on the ledge and dip my feet in the water.

A girl is also on board. I don’t quite feel like surfing, she says. She and Cyn suit up to go snorkel a bit but the water is so crystal clear that we already see that there are no fish, no vegetation nor any coral to look at. There’s only sand. They are back in the boat within 10 minutes, complaining of stings. 

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Alex comes back early. My arms are exhausted. Paddling, he tells us. He offers to share his gear with me, but when he tells me there are jellyfish in the water, I freak. No way, forget it, I say. I’ll help you with the sunscreen though.

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Within the hour, the surfers return to the boat.

“Hay many jellies,” Jessie Chela says to us, his dreads glistening in the sun. We’re not too sure where comes from but he is not from Austrailia and not from here. The girls and I had giggled last night that he walked around semi-naked most days.

We head to the second beach in pure bliss–Playa Hermosa, and this time, the three of us take a long swim to shore, can of Tona in hand.  I’ve never tried to swim 300 meters with a beer in one hand before.  It is well worth it: the beach is isolated and desolate, not a single soul to be seen.

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It’s a relatively small alcove, although most of these beaches are, and we wonder if it’s even possible to reach here by car (although judging from yesterday, you probably wouldn’t want to). Cyn and I build mud mountains in the warm shallow water and blissfully think how wonderful our lives are. It’s like a photograph and I want to kick myself for not bringing my waterproof camera case.

What is this beach called, I ask my friends.

Playa Hermosa.

My God, it’s beautiful.

That’s why they call it Playa Hermosa. You don’t hear them calling places Ugly Beach or Dirty Beach. Haha, Playa Fea.

After returning to the boat, we jump out again to play catch in the water. And then I feel it. A warm grasp rushing by. The sensation of something tingling on your skin. You bat at it but feel nothing. And then, all of a sudden, there’s the sting. Jellyfish.

They hit me.. Two across the knees, one on the left foot, and when I come out of the water, I see speckles of red and little bumps, all in a line formation. Not so bad, I think.

We head to the next beach, Playa Tamarindo, like in Costa Rica, although by simply looking out, Jessie Chela tells us that 360 days out of the year, surfing is good here. Today is not one of those days.

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No matter, our friends say. We’ve never surfed this place. Let’s do it.

So they head out to the surf and Cyn and I head for shore. Within minutes, I can feel the sting of jellyfish again. S.O.B.

Again Cyn and I play in the waves as the surfers try to catch a few waves. Jessie Chela is right and the waves aren’t so good.

And then it hits me. As we jump the waves, there’s one on my knee. Then one on my wrist. Another on my wrist. Another across the thigh. Jellyfish. My wrists sting so bad that I have to get out of the water cursing. It had been a long swim from the boat and I’m terrified at the prospect of swimming back. Unfortunately, there is virtually no other way out of this situation.

They sting so bad, I say to her. I can’t stand it.

Yep, she says laughing. And you thought I was a pussy when I told you I got stung. I didn’t believe her when she said there had been animals.

We eventually have to make our way back and as I swim backstroke, kicking furiously, trying to draw out the former competitive swimmer in me. I feel the stings again, across my legs and back. FUUUUUUCK, I think to myself. Every now and then I jerk up and curse, almost in panic. And yet, there’s absolutely nothing I can do. I’m never getting in this water again, I think angrily, and Cynthia warns me that there’s even more in the Caribbean coast. I am the pansy apparently.

When we get up on the boat, I am still bitching up a storm.

Come on, our friend Jamie from Chicago (of all places!) says. Use the local remedy.

Cynthia, for whatever reason, had packed our bottle of rum in her bag. And so the Flor de Cana comes out, and out comes a Tona. We pass around the communal bottle of rum. I have a beer. All is forgotten.

Bust out the Flor
Bust out the Flor

The cruise back is gorgeous, and we are all merry and friends.

our boat party crew
our boat party crew

When we get back to shore, we get in just in time to see some local Nicas pulling in a huge fish that they had speared. We all snap photos, ridiculously fascinated. Pete even goes to pick it up. The thing is huge.

giganto fish
giganto fish

We look over to the horizon where there is a Jesus statue standing atop a nearby mountain (or hill.. However you look at it), and we make plans to climb it at dusk to catch the sunset.

After grabbing showers, Cynthia asks me if I’m hungry. Sure, I can eat, I say, and we head back to Panga because I am DYING to hit up that garlicy baba ganoush again. They’re closed.

Shit, we think, and head for the beach where we instantly see El Timon, a restaurant a fellow hostel-er had told us about the day before that apparently had HUGE red snappers for $12 that could feed a small family. We are intrigued and sit down.

The restaurant, like the others on the beach strip, is cool and airy, shades pulled down to block out the afternoon sun. Right outside, the beach and water glisten. People lay out and run around in the sand. Sunlight reflects on the water amid a backdrop of greenery. It is breathtaking.

restaurants along the beach strip
restaurants along the beach strip

We order a couple of waters, the white snapper (no hay red snapper today, amigos..) and chicken fajitas,. We get a pack of Belmonts for 30 cordobas and stare out into the water as we puff away. We still can’t believe we’re here and we are in love with San Juan.

Our fish does not disappoint, and it is by far the largest we’ve had so far–the length from my elbow to fingertips . It is smothered in large chunks of garlic.

We eat our fill.. Or more of it, and ask to take it to go. They return our fish to us in a pink plastic bag. Okkkaay, we think, and take it paying the 556 cordoba bill with 557 even. It is literally EVERY LAST PENNY we are carrying on our bodies. We certainly had no plans to consume so much. The night before, for four of us at Panga (and eating generously), our tab had been 775… And that was including the 7 or 8 beers.

Do you mind if we go, I ask her. I really want to climb that mountain for sunset.

When we’re back to the hostel, I find Alex coming down the stairs. I was just looking for you, I say. Let’s do this climb.

Do you think there’s enough time, he says, It’s probably cutting it quite short.

But, it is our last night here and I am determined to get ‘er done, so we strap up, pick up a bottle of Flor de Cana and start walking… first down the long stretch of beach, then up the dirt road.

San Juan del Sur beach
San Juan del Sur beach

Are you sure this is the right way? I ask nervously.

I think so, he says. It seems like we’re heading in the right direction. We were on this road yesterday when we were heading for the surf camp.

I am still nervous. Cooper had told us two nights ago that we would be safe so long that we stayed where all the lights were. This was definitely off the path of lights, and I worried for our safety descending the mountain when it would be undoubtedly dark.

Coca in one hand, rum in the other, we ascend. Past the dirt road, the walk is brutal. A stony walkway that ascends at least at a 60 degree angle or so branches off, and we can see this is our way to the top. Should we run? I ask Alex, nervously scanning the sky for signs that the sun may set soon.

I will if you do, he tells me, so we make off in a jog for the top. I am in pain.

I don’t think I would have survived Concepcion, I say to Alex, gasping. Sweat dribbles down my forehead. We forge on, working against the clock. We are terrified that we will miss the sunset that we are working so hard to see. Dammit! I trudge on as sweat trips down my face onto my tank top. Break open the rum, I tell Alex. We take swigs and set off running again.

There are beautiful houses on our way up the hill, and I stop to take a few pictures of the magnificent scenery, evergreen, cast over with the yellow/reddish glow of the setting sun.

At one of the houses, there is a boy watering some plants.

Is it far? Alex asks.

No you’re close, he says, so onwards we go.

We make it to a clearing finally and take a few pictures around. There is still sun, thankfully, but when I look around some more, I realize that Jesus sits on an adjacent peak and it is even higher.

3/4ths of the way up the climb to Jesus
3/4ths of the way up the climb to Jesus
Jesus still..so..far...
Jesus still..so..far...

Do we just stay here to enjoy the sunset, I think, or do we go for Everest.

We go for Everest.

The road descends for a bit and then it’s up again on a steep ascent up to see Jesus. The road branches off again, this time to another steep climb lined with a staircase. There is a clearing and a white fence on the way to the top, but we came to see Jesus, so Jesus we will so see.

I pray that the fence is open, but the lock is turned slightly to the side, so it’s difficult to tell.

closer to Jesus
closer to Jesus

A man comes to the door and points to the sign. $10 cordobas for nationals and $1 US for Gringos (20 cordobas). Again, the gringo tax.

Alex pays it and we literally run up the roundabout stairs, past a terrifying dog to catch the sunset. We can’t believe we’ve made it and take a hundred pictures. I am past snap happy. I’m snap ecstatic.

SUCCESS!
SUCCESS!

To the north, there are mountains and hills, one after another, in staggered, jagged lines, extending into the ocean. There is almost a hazy mist that extends and somewhere in the distance, smoke from a fire rises from the canopy tops.

to the north
to the north

In front of us, the sky is a million shades of pink, red, purple, orange to blue. It is magnificent and the sun is blood red, sinking beneath the horizon.

made the sunset!
made the sunset!

On the south side, we see the tiny city of San Juan del Sur, from which we have trekked. The waves crash into the bay and we finally get a good idea of what we’ve been looking at in the distance at night.

San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur

Up there we meet an Italian named Roberto who is here from Tuscany looking for work.  He will begin as a restauranteur.. A chef likely… in February. The three of us kick it for a bit, taking pictures all over. I offer him some of our Flor de Cana and he refuses with a smile. I don’t drink when it’s hot, he says.

photo from the top
photo from the top

The mosquitos start swarming as it gets darker and we head down on the descent together. I ask Roberto to come with us because I do not want to get mugged walking in the dark and safety in numbers.

As we walk down, we ask what his plans are for the night. He says he will have dinner with his friend and maybe go for a drink.

“Tomas todas las noches?” I ask him laughing.

Siii, pero no.. no toooodas, he says sheepishly. Pero, me gusta cerveza. He pulls up his sleeve to tell us how much he loves it. He has a mug of cerveza tattooed to his arm!

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Sometimes, he says, my girlfriend says I love beer more than her!

Haha, And you say, yes, but te quiero tambien! I reply.

When we are towards the bottom of the rocky road, before we hit the dark woods, a truck drives by.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if he could give us a lift, I say, and at that moment, the driver rolls down his window and shouts at us.

What? I say.

Where.are.you.going. He says.

Casa Oro, we yell back.

Do you want a lift?

Awesome, I say, and we jump into the back of his Toyota pick-up. It’s my first hitchhiking experience!

Roberto, Alex and I are in heaven as we fly down the dirty roads, bumping along in the back of his pickup. Now Roberto will drink with us. We pass around our bottle of Cana and snap pictures of our collective experience, promising to be facebook friends.

posing on the back of a pick-up with flor
posing on the back of a pick-up with flor

The ride is quick and we are back to Casa Oro in no time, profusely thanking our driver who turns out to be a doctor, a stem cell researcher to be exact.

I return to the room to see Cynthia facedown in her bunk passed out.

I quickly skype Martin to make sure that he is coming tonight. The reception is horrible, but I get a hold of someone. Somehow, between the horrible Spanish and even worse connection, we confirm that our taxi will come to Casa Oro at 2 a.m. tonight and take us to Managua to catch our Ticabus to Tegus.

“Feliz Navidad!” he says to me.

“Feliz Navidad.. Feliz Navidad.. Feliz Navidad, Prospero ano y felizdad!” I sing back.
He laughs and hangs up.

Tonight, there is a parade that goes by in celebration of Christmas. Music blares in the streets and the children are dressed up.

street festivities
street festivities

We have a long night ahead… Six more hours of drinking and hanging out until it’s time for the next leg. I can’t believe we are leaving Nica. We love it here and can’t wait to return.

San Juan del Sur

Cynthia wakes me up at 7:55 a.m. My hangover makes me want to punch her in the face.

Come on, we’re supposed to leave at 8, she says. I grunt and groan. Did I throw up last night? She laughs.

I just went to bed an hour ago, she tells me, and by the way, Jeffers missed his shuttle.

What? I say.

Yep, it never came, she says. I stayed up with him until 5 a.m. and put him on a bus to Managua.

That sucks. No way Jeffers made his 9 a.m. flight out. We’ll hear what happens next, I suppose.

I roll up to the front desk and find out that the shuttle apparently leaves at 8… No, 8:30.. No 10. The departure time is like a moving target. I roll back into bed. The next couple of hours are a miserable, hungover mess with me constantly going to pay for another night and try to sign up for surfing, always with not quite enough cordobas on me. Then I say, uno momento, to get more money from my room, but as soon as I see my bed, I collapse for another nap.

At 10, two hours after they had told us we HAD to be at the reception for our surf lesson, the truck and trailer finally arrives to take about 15 of us down to Playa Madera… about 10 km away but a trek that takes a long and bumpy 40 minutes on dirt roads.

Playa Madera
Playa Madera

The sun is hot when we arrive, and we all unload with huge longboards. Alfredo, our instructor, a 60-some year old guy (it’s impossible to tell) from Peru with piercing blue eyes, waves us down. We talk theory for 1 hour, he says.

There are only 3 of us taking the class, Alex, Cyn and me, and we all are eager to begin. Fred is detail-oriented, giving us an anatomy lesson about the surfboard and a little bit his personal history. I understand 1/3rd of his English.

“One day, you will remember the crazzzzzy Peruvian guy, Fred, who taught you how to stand surfing,” he says. He tells us there are 3 stages of surfing: beginner, intermediate and advanced. From the time it takes to get from a beginner to intermediate, it takes 3.5-5 years. That is, if you go surfing 10 times a year at least. You don’t need another lesson until then, he says, and when you do, you can call me and find out wherever in the world I am. I’ll give you an intermediate lesson.

After an hour of theory, we are ready to hit the waves. It’s low tide, he tells us, not so good for surfing. The best time is mid- to high tide. But we practice anyway, he says.

It’s my third time surfing, and even after a weeklong surf camp in 06, I’ve never been able to truly stand on a board.

Within my first 5 waves, Fred has me standing. Up on my left knee, then right foot at 45 degrees. I am coasting and loving it, although I have some trouble remembering how to do it again after a while.

Lunch is at the beach, a huge plate of watermelon and papayas. We chill until about 4 p.m. when Fred again appears out of nowhere and tells us that the waves are better now. High tide is at 8 p.m. today, he says. It shifts everyday by about an hour.

Cynthia's toes and Playa Madera
Cynthia's toes and Playa Madera

Cynthia has given up but Alex and I head back to the waves and this time, we feel the strength of the tides. The water is much deeper now, the waves huge roll longer.  In the distance, we see the good surfers cruise, carving in and out of the water. They’re amazing.  There are a few pros who surf here now, Fred tells us.

surfers in the distance
surfers in the distance

I fail to catch the first couple of waves but manage to get up on one. It’s like a light went off in Alfredo’s eyes. I know, he says to me, check yourself. You should pop up on two knees first, then plant your right foot.

And he’s a genius. Because with that instruction, I manage to cruise every last wave until it’s time to leave the beach at 5. I finally catch my stride, paddling 4 to 5 times and popping up on the waves. Despite losing at least a layer of skin on my thighs (from scraping on and off the board) I’m in love.

i heart surfing
i heart surfing

“It’s the number one addictive thing.. Surfing,” he says. I’m in love with Fred.

The sun is now about to set over Playa Madera and it so beautiful I snap dozens of pictures with Cynthia’s camera.

Madera at dusk
Madera at dusk

We are herded back into the trailer and head back to San Juan del Sur in the dusk.

herded like cows
herded like cows

Back at the hostel, Cynthia makes friends with Nina and Florine, two Dutch girls staying in our room as well. We decide to head out to dinner together at Panga, sharing stories and having the most amazing Mediterranean Platter I’ve ever consumed. The baba ganoush and hummus are 100% garlicy and delicious. I also order a fish sandwich that the senora recommends and take half it home for an after-bar snack-a -roo. This place even has sriracha. Cyn and I swoon.

We pick up a bottle of Flor de Cana on the way back to the hostel and pre-game with a few Colombians before heading to the opening of La Pancha (literally a backyard bar at a neighboring hostel) and then to Iguana where Nina, Florine and I manage to close down the bar til the ugly lights come up.

shots at the Iguana
shots at the Iguanafailing to be Charlie's Angels

Daniel, also from our hostel, shows up around 12:30. People are apparently ‘doing it’ in a top bunk and he sought escape.

Ometepe – Rivas – San Juan del Sur

We make it to the ferry by 3:30 and before I know it, I am standing at the front of a much smaller ferry, watching the lake waves roll by. It is sunset and I’m awestruck by the sun’s rays reflecting on the water.

San Jorge at dusk from the Ometepe ferry
San Jorge at dusk from the Ometepe ferry
view of Ometepe from San Jorge
view of concepcion and maderas on Ometepe

“Martin” is there on the other side, and after the 45 minute ride to San Juan del Sur, he asks about our itinerary and offers to drive us from San Juan to Managua on Christmas Day at 2 a.m. so we can catch our Ticabus to Tegus. “Martin” is my new best friend.

You are sure, he says to me, because on the 25th, 2 a.m., I will be here.  Do you have a phone, he asks.

No, I say, but I am sure.  We have a flight from Tegus to La Ceiba that day; we cannot miss our Ticabus.  So I take down his number and his license plate.  For as much as he would be screwed if we didn’t show up at 2 a.m. on the 25th, we would be infintely more screwed if he failed to arrive.

had to find a way to record martin's cab number
had to find a way to record martin’s cab number

San Juan del Sur is humid and warm. It is already dark when we get in, but we check into Casa Oro without issue. They are running a special – $5 a bed before Christmas week. Starting tomorrow, the reception desk warns me, it’s double – 750 lempiras.

We meet our housemates, many Austrailian, and decide we will try our hand our surfing tomorrow. Dinner happens in one of the many restaurants along the bay beach. Not as breezy as Santo Domingo, Cyn and I try to stuff down as much food as we can with a few caiparinas. We are still stuffed from lunch, but Jeffers eats three grilled lobster tails for $11.

We hear Iguana is the bar to hit for tonight.  Jeffers’ ride is set to come at 3 a.m. to take him to his 9 a.m. flight out of Managua. We read that many airports are closed or have major delays because of the snowstorms in the U.S. We laugh our way to the bank. Succckas.

I write for a while when we come back, and then we are pre-gaming again, determined to finish off the 1.75 Flor de Cana. Jeffers leaves to call and confirm his shuttle. He comes back with an incredulous look on his face.

“Well,” he says slowly. “I went over to the telephone place we passed earlier, and they told me the phones are finished for the day.”

What? I say to him. Here, use my Skype. We try three times to call the number for his shuttle. All efforts fail.

Oh well, he says, I guess I hope they’ll just be there.

Around 10 p.m., we head with the hostel crew down the street adjacent to the beach. Our first stop is Iguana Bar, a gringo place where the music is pumping off the 2nd floor open-air bar. I order a round of tequila shots for everyone and make friends with some surfers who are definitely having a good time.

fun at the Iguana
fun at the Iguana

We then head down to the Pier. Originally, when people had told us to check the place out, we thought we were looking for an actual pier. Pier, it turns out, is a bar that extends with tables and chairs well into the sandy beach. We dig our toes into the fine, cool grains, enjoying more cuba libres.

Three of us head back to Iguana Bar and somewhere along the way, I stealthily make an exit. Jeffers runs after me. Are you crazy, don’t head back by yourself!

We come back to Casa Oro and the night is a blur. Somewhere, I vaguely remember throwing up. I never even put sheets onto my hostel bed.

Ometepe – Day 3

At 8 a.m., I get up again, and seeing the brightness stream through our makeshift window, I run outside to discover that the day is perfect, sunny and gorgeous. I run back inside, strap on a suit and head down to the beach. I don’t fuck around about my sun time. Gotta have priorities.
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I lay out by the hotel until Cynthia comes down around 9:30, and we head down to the water. The water is perpetually greenish, perhaps in part to reflection from the near-black volcanic sand. We swim around and look in awe at the gorgeous scenery.

It’s like it’s not even the same island, I say to Cynthia. This place has completely redeemed itself since yesterday. We jam to her Ipod, singing boisterously like assholes by ourselves.

Jeffers eventually makes it down, and I grab the Dicapac I’ve purchased to waterproof my camera so we can take some pictures from the water. By the time we are packing, all three of us are sunburnt.

hotel from the water - Santo Domingo
hotel from the water – Santo Domingo

We make plans to take the bus from Santo Domingo to Moyongalpa at 1:30 to catch the 4 p.m. ferry to San Jorge. As we have lunch at Comedor (nothing’s cheaper!), our friend Harlan, who had driven us from Moyogalpa when we arrived, shows up.

“Hola, amigos!” he says. Are you going to Moyogalpa today?

As a matter of fact, yes, I say to him. He inquires if we’d like a taxi, and I decline, saying that we would take the bus.

“For you, I give special price. For Lisa EX-Xia. Five dollars per person.”

We contemplate for a second. For 4 dollars more, we can sit in a private car and eat at our leisure.

“Done,” I say, ecstatic at the prospect that I can take my damn sweet time eating my two little fishies. Jeffers doesn’t even eat. “I can still feel the fish from last night,” he says.

view from our favorite lunch place
view from our favorite lunch place

Harlan is a great guide and plays music for us as we made the hour drive through back roads to Moyogalpa. And apparently, my lonely planet bible is slightly updated because now, there happens to be one ATM on the island in Moyogalpa. It only takes Visa.

Before we leave, Harlan offers to call his friend Martin on the other side to give us a ride from San Jorge to San Juan del Sur. Good price is $15, he says. Some taxis will charge you $20.. That isn’t a good price. Would we want him to call his friend?

Yes! I say, that would be great, and thank you.

Ometepe – Day 2

The day does not clear up. It actually gets slightly worse, migrating from an overcast sky to light drizzles. The water, hovering in the upper 70s, crashes warmly onto the sandy shore, dragging in volcanic sand the color of mud.

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We had assumed that when we arrived last night, it had been high tide. Apparently, it’s high tide all the time (or there is no high tide because it’s only a large lake), because the water had done little to recede. All around us, stray dogs trot in the sand, sniffing out new and better things to eat.

I paid the reception 15 cords to make a phone call to Berman in a last ditch effort to do the Concepcion climb. “Berman? No esta aqua” the man’s voice on the other side of the line barks back at me. In desperation I try to reason with him in English. “Berman.. Was supposed to take us on a hike of Concepcion,” I say. “No entiendo.” Shit.

After completely eating it trying to get into a hammock, we go to breakfast for lack of anything better to do. When in doubt.. Eat. Fish food baby still fresh in our stomachs, we order Gaillo and Ranchero breakfasts. Eggs with rice and beans, salsa, bread, some cheese, passion fruit. It’s $3.50, a much more reasonable price than we had paid for at Hotel Granada.

After a hearty meal we decide to rent horses for 80 cords an hour to see the ojo de agua (natural springs) or perhaps some more. $4/hour buys us our guide and the horses. I can live with that.

The day gets rainier as we head across the street after a brief nap to rent our caballos. The guide looks barely over 14 and speaks virtually no English. Umberto is his name. “Alberto?” I say. No, U… Umbertto.

He saddles up our horses and Cyn and Jeffers get up with little problem but my horse.. Named Gato incidentally.. is skittish and runs around. I’m terrified he is going to kick me.

“El no gusta ti..” Umberto says to me, gesturing at the ridiculous clear poncho I’ve put on over my clothes. After all, it’s rainstorming.. or showering.. outside.. Not willing to let a little rain kill my plans for the day, we poncho it up, suck it up and saddle out.

poncho'ed up
poncho'ed up

The ride turns out to be amazingly beautiful, despite the clouds. In the distance, we see smoke billowing up from an unknown, over the tree canopy. We smell sulfur.

smoke rising
smoke rising

In the water, women wash clothes against las pierras and children play.

Puede tomar? I ask U

Las personnas? No, he says. But, pointing to a cow happily sipping water in the waves.. Los animales.. Si.

We ride around the shore for a good hour or so and turn our horses around to head toward Ojo de Agua, the Water Eye, a fresh spring where drinking water and fresh water come from on the Concepcion side of the mountain. On the other side, U explains, the water comes from the Laguna Maderas.

After using some gnat-infested toilets, we change into our swimsuits and jump into the refreshing, crisp (another word for freezing…) water. With little to do, we splash around as Cyn demonstrates some of her synchronized swimming moves. I suppose we had expected something touristy… a pool similar to ours at Hotel Colonial. Not at all. The spring is… natural looking, with rocks at the bottom, leaves floating and all.

ojo de agua
ojo de agua

We ride with Umberto back to the stables, through some banana tree farms and clear fields. The roads are stony and I wonder if we are hurting the horses.

When we return to the stables, my horse, of course, is the one that runs away to the corner of the yard with no regard to the fact that we are trying dismount. Cynthia and Jeffers are safely on the floor and I’m still sitting bewildered on the back of this wild beast.

In the corner of my eye, I see monkeys in the surrounding woods. And not monkeys like the ones I’m still convinced are artificially planted on Monkey Island in Granada. Real, bonafide wild monkeys undoubtedly drawn to this place with the promise of tourists constantly feeding them bananas.

2nd monkey sighting! (and feeding them bananas)
2nd monkey sighting! (and feeding them bananas)

Umberto signals my horse to come back to him so I can finally get off the back of this stubborn monster. He then grabs a hand full of bananas and whistles into the trees.

Within minutes a dozen monkeys surround the trees adjacent to the stables, ears perked and staring intently at the bananas in Umberto’s hands.

They know I have food, he says in Spanish.

He peels open the bananas with ease and throws chunks at the elevated concrete wall separating the troughs and stables from the woods.

The monkeys, one with a baby on its back, approach apprehensively, moving in slow, deliberate motions until making the final gun for the food. They grab the banana chunks with surprising speed and ease, and, like thieves, make off quickly with their goods.

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It’s ceaselessly amusing, and after running through at least 7 or 8 bananas, Cynthia pulls out the stale cookies from Dominicks out of her purse.

“Els quieren galletas tambien?” we ask. Sure, says Umberto, so we throw what’s left of her cookies to the monkeys too.

It’s 4 p.m. when we get back to the hotel and we sadly realize that we have little knowledge of what else to do. Because we are stuck on an island with no internet, phone or ATM access, we are apprehensive about our plans and our ability to get more money. Counting how much we have combined, we feel nervous about having dinner in Altagracia for no other reason than not having enough dinero to get off the island.

Down the street, we head to a small hut with a sign that reads “Comedor” outside. There are four people lazily sitting in chairs, chatting and fanning themselves. When we come in, they disperse, giving us their seats. They gesture that the wind is too strong where we had planned to sit.

Outside, the winds are still blowing at gale force and we see swarms..the largest swarms I’ve ever seen in my life.. of knats. Circling, swarming. They are everywhere.

Cynthia takes a seat closest to the entrance from the beach and within minutes, she is choking on knats. Hundreds seem to land all over her bare legs. From my vantage point, it is not much better.

For $75 cords, we order the pescado con salsa, what they recommend is the best on the menu, and a cerveza grande, thinking grande might mean a pint.

The grande arrives at our table and it is a full liter of beer. Jeffers and I had ordered one each.

And our fish.. For the equivalent of $3.75 US, we received two entire fish, fried to perfection, smothered in sweet tomato salsa. On the side sat six golden fried plantains, a pile of rice and a fresh salad. Amazing.

amazing for 3.75 US
amazing for 3.75 US

Jeffers and I manage to finish our beers, joking the entire time that we wouldn’t be able to. But soon, we are joined by an amigo from our hotel who has stopped by mid-shift for a beer. He has a grande cerveza too, so we are relieved that we are not the only ones who can consume a full liter of beer in a sitting.

“No, no,” he tells us. He is only drinking half. The other half is for his other amigo.. Our bartender at the hotel.. Who will also make his way over mid-shift to have a beer. We order another beer. Grande.

And in the hazy series of events that follow, it unwinds that somehow we spend the rest of the night at the restaurant/bar. Somewhere in the story, we head back to the hotel to kill some of the Cana de Flor that Jeffers has purchased. Cynthia tries to go to bed for a while, but when Jeffers and I go back to the bar, Umberto is there, asking about where his linda Cynthia is. All three of us head back to hotel to wake Cynthia up and drag her out.

We manage to drink all the restaurant’s grande bottles of cerveza that night, and I order at least 2 more orders of fish to wrap us around to 3. Somewhere in there, we found a tour guide to take us up Concepcion the next day. We make hasty arrangements to meet at the restaurant at 6 a.m. the next morning to ride the bus to the climbing point and do a half-day climb. He promises it will be only $10, and I promise him I will stop drinking at 9 so we can make the climb.

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Then 10 rolls around, then 11. We smoke a bit and head out to the beach where Cynthia manages to push me into the rolling waves (in my sweatpants), and I get a foot massage from our tour guide. Then it’s midnight.. And 1 a.m., and we are still hanging around, eating and drinking. Somewhere in the night, Cynthia throws up and Umberto follows us back to hotel, where Jeffers is forced to escort him out.

Miraculously, at 5:55, I wake up.

“I can’t believe we are doing this climb now,” I say to Jeffers. “Are we doing this?”

“Do you want to skip it?” he says to me. If anything, judging for the amount of rum that is left in the 1.75 bottle of Flor de Cana, he has got to be hurting more than me.

With a grunt, we collectively decide to scrap it.

Granada – Ometepe

Sunday turns out to be solely a travel day. Had no idea that it would take so long to get to Ometepe.

We manage to leave Granada by about 2 in the afternoon, although we don’t realize beforehand that it’s indeed Sunday and regular transportation could be a potential issue. Had we waited an extra day, we could have taken a ferry straight from Granada to Altagracia and saved ourselves an $80 cab ride and a headache. The ferry itself is only about $1.50 or $2.

However, determined to climb Concepcion today… something that we’re not even going to do today, as it likely turns out… we have our hotel call a taxi for us to take us to 1) the Ticabus station so that we can buy our bus tickets from Managua to Tegucigalpa on the 25th, and 2) to the ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa.

When the taxi arrives, we all huddle in, expecting an 8 block ride our hotel told us we were from the Ticabus station. After being in the car for a solid 10 minutes and traveling waaay more than 8 blocks, we all laugh among one-another, joking that the hotel had no concept of what 8 blocks actually meant. Until Jeffers asked the cabbie where Ticabus was, and the cabbie, surprised, goes.. OHHH.. Ticabus? We overshot it by at least 7 minutes.

 

 

driving down Granada streets
driving down Granada streets

So pulling a u-ey and backtracking, we go to the one-room station (more like a jail with auditorium-style seating) with a bathroom, counter and single tv blaring. In the front corner, behind the barred windows and doors, a woman sits with her child behind a glass counter of dusty snack foods for sale.

There is only one attendant and for the moment, he is helping load another Ticabus out in the street. The bus is surprisingly modern, with hydrolics that pump the suitcase compartments up and down. People load. The Greyhound-looking bus is filled.

In the end, it takes a good 30 minutes for Cyn and I to purchase the tickets. We must make our bus, leaving Managua at 5 a.m. for Tegus, 45 minutes before departure time, he tells us. We’re coming directly from San Juan del Sur to Managua, I say. Then at least 2 hours, he says. You leave at 2 a.m.

Is it safe to travel at night? I ask. Seguro? Seguro? He looks at me with a puzzled face. “At least two hours!” he insists. I give up.

We take our tickets for “Yie Yai” (me) and “Cynnthhaa Chang”, fairly certain that it wouldn’t matter that the names never quite matched our passports. They were just under 500 cordobas each.. $25.

Then started the long ride to San Jorge. The drive through the countryside is warm and relaxing, although we are waved down at a checkpoint. Cyn and I are certain that we would have to tip the cop 10 dolares as he inspected our driver’s information and searched through the trunk. Please don’t take my suitcase, I thnk to myself. My laptop is in there.

But Office Friendly waves at us, hands the papers back to the cabbie, and we are on our way again. Down the surprisingly well-paved road, we pass refurbished school buses painted bright white with blue and red stripes. Those are the chicken buses, crammed so full that Nicas literally hang out the back door.
public buses - retired school buses
Intending to make the 2:30 bus was a complete failure. I even thought we might be able to eat some seafood by the pier. By the time we arrive, dusty and tired (our driver drove through the dirt road lane adjacent to the actual road when traffic got backed up by Rivas), we paid our driver 1600 cordobas.. $80, which we later realize is a rip because some Austrailian friends told us they paid $35… and hop out.
A Nica almost instantly waves us down to his tourism office. Eyeing his red t-shirt emblazoned with San Jorge – Ometepe Turismo, and noting that several Nicas we wearing the same shirt, I apprehensively walk towards him.  At this point, we still don’t know how to get onto the ferry.
Stepping into a small office around the corner, I am relieved to discover that he is actually legit and the room is filled with dusty brochures of touristic activities to engage in. Knowing from my Lonely Planet that it would cost about $30 US a night to stay at la Finca Santo Domingo, I hastily pay for transportation from Moyogalpa to Santo Domingo after we get to the other side.

It’s already 3:30 and the next ferry leaves at 4. We buy a few aguas from the neighborhood stand and nearly immediately board the large ferry, but not before I snap up some photos of the San Jorge lake shore. It looks exactly like a sea-side beach.

You can pay the ferry on-board, my amigo Hector tells me. And if you need anything else, call me.
san jorge shore
san jorge shore

The ferry is large and industrial, with people driving their trucks onto the lower level. We pay the 10 cord departure tax and sign a form with our names, ages and citizenship..undoubtedly signing away our lives.

The hour + ride is smooth, although Ometepe is so large that objects seem much closer than they really are. We thought it would be much faster.  Cheesy TV blares inside the 2nd floor cabin, with badly dubbed Spanish blowing out from crackly speakers with shows obviously created in the U.S. circa the 1980s. I go outside, snapping umpteen pictures.

in front of concepcion
in front of concepcion

When we finally arrive in Moyogalpa, it is nearly sunset. The view of the sun setting off the western coast is breath-taking, and we all try to seize the moment and capture a few shots. Another amigo yells “Ex-xia? Ex-xia” at me. He is my ride, he says.

Moyogalpa
Moyogalpa

We walk over to a long green mini-van (more like the mianbao – loaf of bread cars – in China), and load in with the Austrailian backpackers who are also heading out by Santo Domingo to a sustainable farm of sorts. Did you pay $30, they say to me. No, $25, I say, but we’re only 3 people. They are 4. We collectively decide that while expensive, neither one of our groups got explicitly ripped off individually. We likely just all overpaid.

The paved road soon gives away to rocky, dirt road and the sun dips permanently below the horizon. After the bumpiest ride of my life, we arrive at La Finca Santo Domingo, a modest hotel right alongside the lush beach, and our tour guide jumps off the top of the van, handing us our suitcases. He follows us in and helps us arrange a room. I tip him 10 cords, with no idea whether he stands to make a cut for “bringing us there”.

The rooms were a huge downgrade from Hotel Colonial, which ended up costing us nearly $300 for two nights including drinks and breakfast. $28 a night was the going rate here for a premium room for 3 with a/c. I now wish we didn’t have the a/c because the blaring cold air significantly worsened my strep throat.

A few Victorias later, we headed to the Villa Paraiso 200 meters down the street, for some fish and langosta.

The meals did not disappoint. We start out with a seafood platter (mariscada) and an order of pescada frito. Both came with fried plantains and rice. We destroyed it. And (un-wisely) decide to order some more, if for nothing other than being utterly fat.

deliciosa - villa paraiso
deliciosa - villa paraiso

Numero 25, por favor, I say. The seafood brochette? The waiter says back to me. I think he is surprised we are still eating.

15 minutes later, all complaining how full we are, we destroy the 3rd plate of food as well, feeding some scraps to the 4 or 5 stray dogs wandering around.

no mas.
no mas.

Unfortunately, Berman, our supposed tour guide for the Concepcion climb was nowhere to be found, despite telling us he would meet us at our hotel. I get online to see if he’s emailed and email again. I hear nothing.

We walk back to our hotel in relative silence and darkness, bellies bulging from the 10 pounds of food we have just consumed. Upon arriving back we find our hotel completely cerrado, with all the doors to the reception and main bar closed.

Well, there goes that, I think. We can’t even buy a coke to make a cocktail.

But more troubling, we had wanted to call Berman to see if we could still do the climb the following day. While Cyn decides to take a shower, Jeffers and I head back to the Villa Paraiso–apparently the only place this side of the island with a phone and/or internet–to buy a few cokes and make a call. We decide to divide and conquer, so as he heads to the bar, I walk up to the reception.

“Puede.. Uh.. Telefono?” I say, holding my hand up to my ear like a phone cradle. The woman at reception picks up the phone , listens to it and says to me somberly, It doesn’t work.

I look at her again. Well, is there another phone somewhere maybe? I ask.

No, she says. It doesn’t work because.. The lines… gesturing up at the ceiling for imaginary phone lines.  Translated: we are screwed.

We head back to the Finca Santo Domingo again, only to find Cynthia shivering in our room.

“I only conditioned,” she says. “There’s no hot water.” She is sitting on the bed in a hoodie.

We resign ourselves to playing Word Up and listening to the bad music on my ipod until one by one, we all slowly get tired and pass out. The air con blasts all night long.

I wake up even sicker with no idea what time it is. The little bit of translucent light streaming through darkened window indicates to me, so it seemed, that it was sometime in the morning. I did not want to miss the sunrise, so I head out to the porch eagerly, with laptop and camera in hand.

It is only 6:00 a.m. The wind feels like it’s blowing at gale force. And I have forgotten my memory stick.

Granada Day 2 – PM

Equipped with about 5 rum and cokes, we headed to dinner back on Calzada, where we quickly make friends with two older guys sitting next to us.  By we, I mean I, and I think most days, I’m probably too friendly. But hey, they were quasi locals and spoke English.

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The resto had some amazing pollo (I’ve been told the beef in the country is nothing to write home about.. Oh Colombia, how I miss you..) and rice.  Maybe it’s because I’m Chinese, but I am in LOVE with eating the rice down here.

The guys tell us to go to some place called Cesar’s on the beach (SEE-SARS… guy on the right says with a Southern drawl.)  We politely decline (they had overstayed their welcome anyways) and say we are going to head to El Club after dinner.  “Your call,” they say to us, shrugging and going on about their many girlfriends and wives.   I am one gigantic eye roll.

Going to El Club turned out to be a fabulous idea and since tomorrow is Sunday and we’re leaving for Ometepe anyway (nothing more to see here…), I guess we won’t know any differently.  Everyone stays on Calzada until 10 and then head to the Irish bars and then to the clubs, they tell us.  Aren’t they a little too old for this, I think to myself.

El Club is loud and pumping. “$5 cover” says the guy at the door as I walk up. I attempt to sweetly batt my eyelashes and tell him a cover charge won’t be necessary. $5 he insists.

I relent, handing over my $5 and my dignity, but he is redeemed when he hands me a plastic cup and tells me that it’s an open bar.  Sweet!

Three rum and cokes later, I am in good shape.  And the club is fairly large with the DJ elevated on what feels like the 3rd floor. There is a really steep stair case that goes up there (which later in a drunken stupor, I surpassed security and climbed. Great view from up top)

Standing by the backroom bar, we manage to swipe a couple of seats. Turns out we sit next to a sweet girl from Costa Rica named Kenya and a group of her friends.  After chatting.. and drinking.. together, we decide that we are new best friends and hang out for the rest of the night together.

bffs
bffs

Jeffers cops out early. With good reason. He was likely on double what we had consumed.  After spilling a drink on a girl and acting moderately creepy, he heads (or we force him to head..) out.

Cyn and I stayed with Kenya, doing a fair amount of what Jenna calls “seat dancing”.  I never thought I would make it out that long but it was the night that great nights were made of.  Just when you thought that you coudn’t drink anymore…

boogers!
boogers!

We stand up on the stools and did a little dance. My new friend Kenya gives me her ring and tells me to remember her.

At 3 a.m., we decide it’s time to call it a night. Sweaty, drunk and tired, we head back to the hotel and jump into the pool.  The hotel attendant doing rounds waves to us.

“What time does this pool even close?” I ask. “10 p.m.” he goes and laughs.  Then he comes down and has a drink with us.

Finally, Cyn and I are toast too and head back to the room to pass out. Jeffers is still wiped and oblivious to our heinous laughter.

obv i take a picture.
obv i take a picture.

Woke up at 9 today and had 4 glasses of water followed by the classic amazing desayuno tipical.  Packing up and getting ready to head to Ometepe for our climb up Concepcion with Berman.

Granada Day 2

Got up in the morning with a raging hangover and immediately ran outside to the pool.  Our room was large: 2 queen size beds more than large enough to accommodate my thrashing and strong a/c. Best of all, it was right next to the pool. Perfect for some post-bar swimming action that we’ve definitely indulged in every day since being here.  And the hotel itself. Gorgeous!

hotel colonial... pool right outside our door.
hotel colonial… pool right outside our door.

We had an amazing breakfast (staff is incredibly friendly), and headed out to check out the city. Charming and quaint.. but not so much to check out.  After re-orienting ourselves and buying a few bottles of water (the tap water here is apparently very heavy in lead), we decided to head down Calzada for the lake.

Calzada
Calzada

In my original itinerary, I had planned that we would maybe spend a day boating around the isletas.  Turns out, it’s not such an “all day” activity.  It’s pretty relaxing… and by relaxing, I also mean boring.

After picking up a coconut on the street (the vendor literally hacked it open with a shank.. or machete.. depending on how you look at it…)

shanking a coconut
shanking a coconut

.. we made our way to the beach.  Not before his son offered to take us around the isletas for $20 US.  “We’ll walk around some more,” I said as we parted ways. “Wait,” he goes, “I can give you a better price for one hour!”  Whatever the price, I’m sure we’re still paying the gringo price.

As soon as we hit the beach.. a sad little strip of dark sand.. we are approached again by someone offering to take us around the isletas for an hour.  “We take you to see the island with the monkeys,” he goes and because he speaks a little bit of english and has pretty eyes, I bargain the price to $13 and decide that we will go see these isletas.

Foolish me, thinking that this english speaking, pretty-eyed guy would be our tour guide.  Soon enough we find ourselves in a little gangster boat and a local, perhaps in his 50s, climbs in barefoot and starts towing us away from shore.  Shit, I catch myself thinking for a minute. Is this dude going to rob us, drop us off at an isleta and laugh his way to the bank while we figure out how to get off the island?

at least there were life jackets...
at least there were life jackets…

First, we went to the island with the monkeys.  Two monkeys. Tiny island. I swear that a local must have caught a few in the rain forest and dumped the poor things there.  Then they all got together to form a marketing scheme that they would collectively tell the turistas there was a “monkey island”.  Someone probably stopped by to feed them bananas every day.

Sarcasm aside, it was actually relaxing and beautiful. Many of the islands were on sale and there were quite a few with huge houses on them.  Average cost, about $200K US.  Not an amazing deal, considering you still have to get things wired and build on a rocky foundation.  But to own island.. for the cost of a jr. 1 in River North.

las isletas
las isletas

We came back within the hour and searched for the next great thing. Our conclusion? The bars down Calzeda.

bars and restaurants along Calzada
bars and restaurants along Calzada

Zoom Bar came first, mostly because I heard English being spoken inside.  Two cadillac margaritas and some papas francescas later, we had made the decision to do a bar crawl down Calzeda for lack of any better ideas.

Next down the street was Roadhouse.  We had some amazing drinks with rum, orange juice, lemon, and some papaya juice.  Of course, in classic fashion, we turned ours into dobles.

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At the bar, Cyn and Jeffers get into a philosophical discussion, so I capitalize on the golden opportunity to check out the signs in the bathroom.  Best of the bunch:

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Our barcrawl gets cut short with the brilliant idea to get massages. I had read on trip advisor that there was a really great massage place just next door to Colonial.  And they were right.  Blind masseuses, 160 cords for 35 minutes… and let me tell you that it is a GENEROUS 35 minutes.  Best money I’ve spent so far ($6 in case you were wondering..). Tipped the guy 30 for his efforts.  Nothing better than getting a full body massage in 80 degree warmth with a cool fan blowing over your back.

Jeffers and Cyn had originally planned to go as well, but get caught up drinking cuba libres at the pool. And then the debauchery started.

Granada, Nicaragua

Made it to Granada. Gorgeous, gorgeous little town.. but let’s emphasize little. En serio.

We landed relatively on time on Friday and were pretty thankful after hearing that Chicago got pummeled by snow after we left.

Paxeos came to get us at Managua airport.  During our layover in Houston, Jeffers had called from El Salvador, saying that he had missed his flight to Nica from San Salvador, but there would be more flights that day. Since none of us had working cell phones, we made tentative plans to meet at the bar in Nica’s airport. Any bar. After all, Managua is a fairly large city.. the country’s capital.  We assumed there would be at least be ONE bar. Fail. No bar.

But we met up fairly easily and quickly, and after picking up a bottle of rum from the duty free shop (yes.. apparently you can buy “duty free” AFTER you land and clear customs..), we headed into a Paxeos van for Granada.

It was a little nerve wracking, to be honest.  Shuffling into a van with 3 Nicas, not speaking the language and wondering if they had plans to take your sh*t and leave you on the side of the road.  Not to be offensive or ignorant, but it’s a real concern.

Christmas tree on the way to Granada
Christmas tree on the way to Granada

We arrive at Hotel Colonial around 11. Mario, working the front desk, is more than sweet and gives us recommendations on where to go drinking tonight.  “Karaoke, you like karoake?” he goes.  We convince him to come have a drink with us in our room.  “Solo uno”, he goes.

Pre-drinks in our room with our new best friend, Mario.
Pre-drinks in our room with our new friend, Mario.

We go to a bar down the street called Be, after searching all around and failing to find a place to have dinner. El Club is five blocks down the street, a place we had actually considered staying but ultimately vetoed because on every map we had seen, it looked like it was in the middle of BFE. Who knew BFE was a 3-minute walk away from the town center?

We start the night with Flor de Cana and cokes, followed by probably too many shots of Don Julio.  Not knowing the exchange rate (which was stupid because my Lonely Planet bible was sitting in the hotel room..) Jeffers buys rounds of drinks, shoving the change (hundreds of cords..) back to the bartenders.  We realize the next day that while our tab was probably $30 or so, Jeffers had likely tipped the boys at least double that.

derishous... don julio and chicken nachos.
derishous… don julio and chicken nachos.

Salvation factor: free breakfast at Hotel Colonial. Red beans and rice did miss her! (I should mention that at the time of writing, we didn’t realize that breakfast was indeed not free but a complete rip)

amazing breakfast. Desayuno Tipical
amazing desayuno tipical