The Day we got ripped off on Ometepe

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The Day we got ripped off on Ometepe

Within 5 minutes of being awake, Gwyn had worked his magic once again and we were on the road to San Jorge port to go to Isla de Ometepe. As we got the later ferry at 9am, we felt rushed that we wouldn't fit everything in, in one day, so we booked onto a tour near the port. We managed to haggle him down and get $10usd off, but still paying a pricey $80usd tour of the island.

It was absolutely not worth it either. The 'tour' was essentially a taxi dropping us off at different attractions. We could've easily have done it ourselves and rented a motorbike for $50usd. C'est le vie. We later found out, that we weren't the only ones regretting booking one of these 'tours'.

During the day we visited the Charco Verde, which was a nice little stop for an hour. The best bit was the mirador, overlooking the lagoon, volcano and sea. We then went to the petroglyphs at El Porvenir. They were pretty crap to say the least and we couldn't believe they were an island highlight. For lunch we visited Santo Domingo, which was reported as having grey sands that many visitors were disappointed in. However, where we were was actually really pretty, with white sands and so quiet. We have no idea were it was as the driver just took us to a local comedor (probably would've have got a cut from that too). 

The last stop was a swimming hole in the Conception Volcano part of the island. It's essentially an outdoor pool, packed with tourists. The setting was nice, but that's as far as it stretches. We kicked off that we had to pay for admission to the pools, given it was promised to us in the price of the tour. 10 minutes later, the driver paid. We later heard this was a common tactic, so the drivers pocket the additional money. As if they hadn't taken enough already. 

At 4pm, we got the ferry back, and watched sunrise over the volcanos. It was the the best part of the day. The clouds had lifted, leaving just little halos circling the top of their cones. 

The ferries in both directions was literally a few dollars, so the island is worth the visit if cost is an issue. Some hiking enthusiasts opt to climb either one of the volcanos, but as views from the summit are often limited, and to be honest, we felt we had our volcano climbing quoted made already, we didn't do it. You could spend a few days in Ometepe, discovering the nooks of the island. The roads are better than expected, so the best way would be to rent a vehicle, or rely on the irregular, but cheap bus services. 

When we arrived back, we picked Dougal up from the secure port parking (a couple of $usd for the day) and headed to Penas Blancas to cross the border into Costa Rica.

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The Day of Nicaraguas Best Swimming

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The Day of Nicaraguas Best Swimming

Dougal does his morning ritual of causing us grief as we search the streets of Granada trying to get a part for the breaks. In the end Gwyn fixes it by using a piece of string. This is a temporary fix apparently... 

 

We head to Laguna de Apoya were Monkey Huts let you rent kayaks and tubes for $6usd all day. The water is warm and it's well worth the stop to escape the heat. Some people attempted the walk around the lake, which took hours and hours. They regretted it. Relaxing is the name of the game here. 

 

At 4pm, we rocked up to Masaya volcano night tour (pre-booked days before at the office). For $10usd we got the same tour as others who had booked with a tour outside the park for $30usd. It included a walk up to the main viewpoint and walk around the rim, some information about the volcano and the area, a night tour of the bat cave, and viewing the lava at the bottom of the smouldering cauldron. Unfortunately, due to the change of wind direction we just saw A LOT of smoke. That's nature for you. Everyone was coughing and the taste stuck on the back of our throats, so if you have breathing/chest problems, this wouldn't do you any favours. The tour was on from 4:30pm - 7:30pm, so despite the fact we didn't see the lava and the tour was extremely disorganised, it meant we could head to port for departure to Isla de Ometepe tomorrow. 

 

We pulled up just 5km from San Jorge port to get to the island the next day. As we were sorting out dinner just off the road, a truck driver told us to move on as it was a dangerous area. Taking the advice, we tried to start up the van and move along. Unbelievably, the van wouldn't start and we literally rolled into a nearby secure parking in all our glory. We didn't get to sleep until 2am, with truckers blaring out their hip hop music whilst making chat to each other from their hammock beds underneath their vans. Poor Gwyn worked for hours trying to get Dougal to show some form of life, but no avail.

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The Day of Christmas in the sun

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The Day of Christmas in the sun

Christmas isn't a complete write-off here; there's still touristy places open, with some tour companies still offer excursions. Street vendors are still trying to cash-in on influx of people coming to Granada during the festive period and horse-drawn carriage owners are escorting people around the city. It doesn't feel any different to a normal day.

We headed to the chocolate spa (conjoined with the chocolate museum) at 9am. The treatments had some form of chocolate involved in them. Gwyn had a vey intimate, naked hour long massage. There was cupping involved by a 60 year old woman! Merry Christmas to him.

I had facial, pedicure, waxing...basically everything I needed to transform myself back into a girl. Not smelled this good since September.

We spent all day swimming in the pool, sun bathing and Skyping the relatives. Felt good to relax and not run around ticking off a list of things to see/do. We spent the evening sipping overpriced (but delicious) drinks in the Grand Hotel, listening to classical music and fireworks outside.

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The day we did Christmas Eve, Nicaragua style

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The day we did Christmas Eve, Nicaragua style

A 7am start with Va Pues tours (they're next to the Cathedral in Parque Central), we had a bike tour around the city and along the malecon, then got a boat ride through the Las Isletas, were we saw the fancy homes of ex-pats who have managed to get their 'I have my own island' dream.  We also went to monkey island, with its 4 cheeky residents. It was pleasant and a great way to start the day. We then continued by bike to the end of the peninsular and chilled at the end over-looking the lake. We then did the 1 hour bike ride back to the Cathedral, passing through farming communities in the intense heat. The tour was $20usd and for the price it was worth it, but don't expect much information regarding the city town aspect of it. Gwyn's love of bikes meant he was happy, especially given the low point moment yesterday brought.

At midday, we ate on 'Gringo Street' (along side the Cathedral), then looked around town including going to the chocolate museum. 

Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve here, with turkey sandwiches on Christmas Day. They had numerous buffet dinner options along 'Gringo Street' and then we bar hopped our way along. There was a massive firework display at midnight around Parque Central and a street party. We finished our Christmas Eve, with beers, watching 'Home Alone' and eating hot dogs from the street vendors. The way things should be :-).

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The Day we got attacked

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The Day we got attacked

In the morning we went to the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones, which was meant to be an interesting museum detailing hard-core torture methods the National Guard used in the cells. The guide tried his best, but we'll never get that hour of our lives back again. I honestly wouldn't bother going in. The figures and murals looked liked they'd been made and drawn by children. After another mooch around Leon, we left for Masaya.

We booked onto the night volcano tour at the Masaya volcano entrance, but as it's the holiday season, they only have a tour in 3 days. At least we're on it though :-). We then went to Coyotepe fortress just outside Masaya town. It provided views of the town and a guided 20 minute tour of the subterranean cells was included in the admission. It was actually really interesting, and it's definitely worth the visit (especially if you get the guide we had, who was called Renny).

After, we walked around Masaya town, including seeing the usual Cathedral and churches. There's the famous Nicaraguan Mercado de Artisanias (handicrafts market), which had a massive collection of souvenirs and some beautiful wooden pieces. We also walked along the malecon, which provided views of the Laguna de Masaya. As we are coming back to Masaya in a few days, we made our way to Granada (just 16km away) for sunset. 

 

Our initial opinion of the town is that Granada is definitely Nicaragua's city jewel. The architecture is stunning. We had a few drinks in a Parque Central cafe, watching the weird and wonderful action going on in the square, including a Christmas parade, with people dressed as nativity characters, and a man who set off rocket fireworks just by letting them go from his hand. Health and safety went out the window since Mexico, so it's becoming common to see these things now.

Gwyn wanted to service Dougal, so we went to to the malecon near the lake. After a few hours, the police came over to tell us to move on as it was a notorious dangerous area. They escorted us to a safer patch just 200 metres up the road. We were parked close to a night market and thinking they would have food, headed over. Unfortunately, it was just stalls of fireworks, so we left after a minute. As we were walking back to the van (just 20 metres from the market gate entrance), when 3 youths jumped out on us with 6 inch knives. All 3 initially targeted Gwyn, then I started pulling on their clothes and screaming. They tried to hit Gwyn, but kept missing. The whole ordeal went on for a minute, but it felt A LOT longer, resulting in Gwyn getting a beating and cuts on his back and me having a knife to my throat. By that point other people had noticed and were screaming at them, so scum bags escaped under a fence, and in a daze, we ran to the van, locked ourselves in and drove back to the city centre.  We were shaking so much, I don't know we managed to drive!

The police came over to us and took us to the station. We gave statements and I identified the thugs. I didn't have a mark on me, but Gwyn had 13 marks (most are more than 4 inches in length) on his back. He looked like he had been whipped and was bleeding from his wounds. I patched him up and we calmed down. Gwyn's t-shirt has several rips and holes in it, so that's completely ruined.

Luckily, the marks Gwyn has don't seem deep enough to cause any scarring. They also never took anything from us as I had just a bit of money tucked in the bra that they never checked. We can't believe what has happened and we are thankful that the police and the locals were really helpful. We are just going to try and forget it, and enjoy the town and Christmas period.

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The Day we boarded down an active volcano

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The Day we boarded down an active volcano

At 9am we left with Big Foot hostel to go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, one of the most active volcanos in Central America. We had to walk up the volcano first, which although hot at times and the wind was extremely strong, it was only 45 minutes to the top. We then put on boiler suits (filling us with confidence) and shown the technique of how to ride the board (essentially a piece of wood with a bit of rope to hang onto). Gwyn braved the volcano first and managed to get a 51km speed at the bottom. I went after him and clocked 69km, which happened to be the fastest speed of the day, out of the group of 16 people. Chuffed with that one :-). Several people took it too serious and literally had sulks at the bottom, throwing their boards down. Other than that, we absolutely loved it. It's the only place in the world to offer such an activity, and if we had more time, we would've had another go. It is possible to do this activity by just going to the volcano yourself and paying the entrance fee at a fraction of the cost that Big Foot were charging, but you won't get a boiler suit and goggle protection (highly recommended), shown how to use the board, have free photos taken, got someone to take your speed, got given a free t-shirt, two alcoholic drinks each, and transportation there and back (that's an adventure in itself with the conditions of the road). For us, it was worth paying the extra $15usd each (the difference in price).

In the afternoon, we went to the cinema around the corner and watched Hunger Games 2. Most films are in English, with Spanish subtitles, but just clarify before going in. It was nice to have a taste of home life, relax and get out of the heat. 

Later, we walked around Leon, checking out the Cathedral, churches and shops, then went back to the hostel and met a Canadian guy who cooked for us for free. Random.

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The Day we met Alberto Gutierrez

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The Day we met Alberto Gutierrez

We started the day in La Garnacha, the furthest attraction along the road from the hospital turn off in Esteli. La Garnacha is a farming village selling organic products, such as cheese, coffee, vegetables, as well as some stone and wooden handicrafts. There's some nice vistas just a short walk from the village too. After that, we headed along the road to El Mirador. The farmer let us cross his land (for free), so we could climb the hill behind. Ask for Mirador Segoviano to avoid any confusion. There's a 15 minute trail to the top, resulting in a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. The view is similar to the less arduous and very short walks near La Garnacha though. 

Further along the road, we found Galeria del Arte El Jalacate. The sign is really faded, but you should be able to make out 'El Jacate' at the gated entrance. Just park near the top, then walk down the stone road. You'll get to a house. Ask for Alberto Gutierrez, a quirky 75 year old man who has sculptured and carved images into a 40 metre cliff face. It's not Mount Rushmore, but Alberto is lovely and is more than willing to explain the meanings behind his work. Lucky for us, there was someone there who spoke Spanish who translated everything. It's an interesting visit and also a freebie. 

The closest attraction to Esteli and next on along the road, is Salto Estanzuela. It's a pretty waterfall, with a swimming pole below. We attempted to get in, but the water was absolutely freezing. Plus, by this point Gwyn and I had run out of water and then I fell over down the crumbling road you have to walk along to reach the waterfall. Due to his lack of sympathy and support, I threw my bra at his head. He retaliated by throwing it in a tree. It took him ages to get it out. He's learnt his lesson...apparently.

After, we drove to Leon, with a slight hiccup with Dougal cutting out on the highway, fluid leaking from the clutch. Gwyn managed to fix it and we arrived in time for the Saturday night action in Leon. It was packed with food stalls and handicrafts around Parque Central. The town was frantic, and even driving around it was a pain in itself. We parked outside Big Foot hostel and booked onto a tour for the morning.

I got Gwyn some surprise cupcakes and I sang 'happy birthday' to him, with the help of Stevie Wonder on the ipod. Hope he wished for happy travels as he blew his candles...

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The Day Dougal messed things us... again

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The Day Dougal messed things us... again

We slept on the outskirts of Matagalpa, as Dougal needed some welding doing at the front. For a snip at $10usd for 2 hours work, we'll have some of that. 

 

We then headed into Matagalpa city, home of coffee and cacao. We got bored of Museo del Cafe fairly quickly though, as it was basically reading a Wikipedia history of Matagalpa. We looked around the town, which is huge and has everything you could think of buying. Unfortunately, as we were leaving, Dougal fails to start. 2 hours later and after a hoard of locals join in on oiling themselves up, he's fixed. 

We went to El Castillo de Cacao to learn about the history, production and taste some organic chocolate. The tours run from 10am - 2pm, but as Dougal played up, we got there 15 minutes late. That car grr. We used the admission money on the tour to buy chocolate though. Budget well spent today. We then left to go to Esteli. We tried to get onto the cigar factory tours, as we've enjoyed these before, but due to the Christmas period, they weren't doing any tours. Instead, we looked around the Parque Central, cathedral and markets.

We decided to camp out in Reserva Natural Cerro Tisey-Estanzuela (turn at the hospital as you're leaving Esteli). All the sights (that we are doing tomorrow) are listed along the road.

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The Day of Gwyns Birthday

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The Day of Gwyns Birthday

Happy 28th birthday to Gwyn. I got Gwyn a cafetiere a few weeks ago, which he is more than happy with. We are now officially classy campers :-).

We woke up to breakfast on the beach, then went to explore the island. You could walk it within an hour if you stayed on the path, but we veered off course onto the secluded beaches. We both agreed it was definitely the best island we had been to so far on the trip (including Cayes, Belize; Livingston, Guatemala; Bay Islands, Honduras). There's no car, motorcycles, tuk-tuks or golf carts for one. It's beaches are clean and the sand felt like cream, it was that soft. There's also no mosquitos (well, we aren't being bitten anyway).

Our boat departed at 1:15pm to take us back to Big Corn for the flight. It was a bigger boat than the panga coming here, with four tiers. Given we were late getting on, we were left with having to sit on the lower ground area. Unusual for me, I pucked up all over the floor, right near everyone's luggage. It was pretty grim. 

The boat coincided with the flight and we arrived a few hours before, to the joy of a horror film in the one room seating area. The children didn't seem to mind people being sliced and diced on screen!  

The flight took just 1 hour 15 minutes, after which we picked up Dougal from the parking lot across from the airport (they under-charged us...winner), then we headed to Matagalpa.

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The Day we went to Little Corn Island

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The Day we went to Little Corn Island

At 9am we boarded a panga to take us to Little Corn ($6usd). It was apparently 30 minutes, but it felt a lot longer, especially as everyone flew up from their seats whenever the boat whacked against a wave. Never have either of us been on a boat ride that resembled a rollercoaster ride as much as this one.

When we can arrived (drenched from the ride), we turned right at the end of the dock, in order to get to the other side of the island at Cocal beach. There seemed to be no negotiation on price at the four places next to each other (maybe due to it being December?!). We eventually decided to stay at Elsa's place, as the rooms were bigger, they came with private bathrooms for the same price as shared bathrooms with the other competition close-by, and the beach out the front was immaculate. Our cabin was literally 4 metres away from the sea. Can't complain much for $25usd per night for a room with a view.

In the afternoon, we went diving with Dive Little Corn. They offer the same prices as Dolphin Dive (eg a one-tank dive is $35usd pp), but we got a 10% discount with our Trekcat card (several places in Central America give them out for free, but we got ours from Jungle River Lodge, Honduras. NB They also had them at Utila Dive Centre, Honduras). We dived at Stanley Reef, which was meant to be plagued by nurse sharks. We didn't see one. It wasn't the best dive, but that maybe due to the strong currents at the moment. We only heard good things about the diving here though.

Kite surfing is big here, but at $250usd a pop for a 2-day course, we gave it a miss. Maybe it we had been there on a holiday we would've taken up the offer...

After diving, we watched the sunset by the dock.

In the evening, we celebrated Gwyn's birthday at Turned Turtle. It's the next place along after Sunrise Paradise/Carlitos. The food was fairly cheap for the Corn Islands, but more importantly it tasted amazing, especially the ribs. We were also seated in our own private seating area on the beach, a couple of metres from the sea. We had some cocktails and beers, which are expensive part of the meal, then walked along the beach back to our cabin. Feel so happy and lucky to be here.

During the night, there was a huge storm that woke us both up. Even though we were shouting at each other a feet away, we could barely hear what the other was saying (much to Gwyn's delight I bet).

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The Day we Found Paradise

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The Day we Found Paradise

Why hello Mr Sunshine and goodbye stomach issues. Having sacked off the diving idea, we walked 20 minutes to the best beach on the island - Southwest Bay. Miles of white sand, fringed with coconut palms and only a handful of locals kids surfing on fridge doors (actually true) to share it with. This place is nothing like the gringo-tastic Cayes in Belize or Bay Islands in Honduras. It's quiet, laid back and not a soul to share it all with. 

Later, we ate at Fisherman's Wharf near the dock, which offered some tasty fresh seafood dishes.

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The Day we went to Big Corn Island

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The Day we went to Big Corn Island

The Corn islands are the last remaining Caribbean islands left relatively untouched by tourism. Even Big Corn (our first stop for a few days) is lacking in gringo numbers on the short flight over here. For $180usd for return flights, it's steep for those on a budget, but there are cheaper options to get a boat (if you fancy a 13 hour rocky ride to Bluefields). When we landed we were greeted with tropical weather - a tropical storm. Typical.

We got a waiting taxi with a Mexican girl, who recommended us to stay at G & G hotel. You could walk it, but with the down pour and the fact it's only $20cordobas pp (approx $1usd) for any distance, we took the easy option. At $15usd a night we get a large private room (go for the second floor) with two double beds and our own bathroom. The english speaking owner also does laundry for a small fee. Good job we brought a full bag then.

You could walk around the island in a couple of hours, but for us, it was time to eat seafood, check out the diving and catch up on some zzz's. Life is hard.

I've unfortunately got the inevitable traveller's stomach bug. To make matters worse, Gwyn flooded the bathroom (I can't even begin to explain the complicated process in flushing the toilet), resulting in an ice-skating rink for those emergency bathroom runs. Brilliant.

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The Day we crossed into Nicaragua

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The Day we crossed into Nicaragua

At 11am, we made it to Los Manos. There was no fee for leaving Honduras. The process was sorted within 10 minutes. However, the same cannot be said for Nicaragua side, which took a further 2 hours of 'too many cooks' and slow processing workers. There was no permit fee for the vehicle, but it did require a fumigation spray ($5usd) and insurance ($12usd). There's also a tourist fee of $10usd pp with an additional overland fee of $2usd pp. We had read about this before we came and all fees came with an official receipt for doubts. There is also a $1usd fee, which we don't know what this is for, but everything seemed legitimate (again an official receipt was given, plus locals were paying it too). 

We then made the 30 minute journey to Somoto and managed to get on an afternoon tour of the Rio Coco for $20usd pp including hiking along the rim of the canyon and then swimming through the river, jumping off cliff edges and scrambling over rocks, with a boat ride to finish. We had a good time and cooling off from the heat in itself was worth the money. 

After eating dinner over looking the Nicaragua countryside, we drove the 3hours along highway 1 to the Managua airport (the international one - 12km east of Managua). We booked with La Costena for the 6am flight to Big Corn the next day, but we were unable to park up in the airport parking area in front of the terminal that night and had to come back at 4am. At 150 cord (£4GBP/$6USD ish per day) it's worth the security. Best Western Hotel across the way provides free parking, but only if you're a guest...or the security guard will usher you to move along.

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