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By this Author: VGH on tour

Hurricanes and beaches

finally into mexico

View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

The snorkelling trip didn't pan out quite like we expected. For a start, we were the only people in our group of 8 who could swim properly. So it meant our first stop at shark and ray alley, there was plenty of screaming (about the nurse sharks) and life jackets floating around. Luckily here you could put your feet down on the ground so it wasn't too much of a drama... so long as you can tolerate the rays coming and rubbing themselves around your legs like some kind of aquatic cat (the tour operators feed them conch, hence so friendlly). It felt pretty cool as well!
From here we moved to a second site, where Richard learnt the hard way about diving under water with man flu - several minutes of vertigo later he was pretty ready to call it quits.
The last site was again ridiculously shallow and not much to see, so all in all a bit of a disappointment.

On our way back from snorkelling the guy stopped the boat in the mangroves to show us a sea horse which was kind of cool. He was also very good in checking we all knew about the upcoming tropical storm and that we had plans to leave the island.
We had heard about the storm from our hostel the night before, but hadn't been too worried as its hurricane season, they must get tropical storms all the time!

When we got back to our guesthouse we learnt that the owners had decided they too would evacuate the next day.. so we began to wonder if we should be taking this a bit more seriously. The chatter around the island and some googling suggested that yes we should be, as it would likely be a hurricane by the time it reached Belize, and would only be the 4th hurricane to make landfall in Belize since the 80s. (remembering we are on an island that was split in 2 by a previous hurricane)

So we lazed the afternoon away, went cycling around the island and enjoyed some more A/C. We were lucky enough to not have it pour with rain in the evening, so we got a bit more selection for dinner (the calm before the storm?)

The next morning we were up early to get the first boat off the island. But when we awoke, it was bucketing down! Worried that maybe the hurricane (it was now upgraded) had arrived early, we scurried down to the ferry terminal, got soaked, only to have the rain stop completely about 10 minutes later.
But it meant we were off the island in a timely fashion, and soon enough in a chicken bus heading for the mexican border (which by the way is HUGE! no mans land is several kms long) In the bus station we met some English boys who were heading to Caye Caulker, who had no idea about the hurricane and thought we were making it up, until we told them our hostel was evacuating. We suspect they still went out to the island though.

Unfortunately, we had planned to take photos on our morning walk to the ferry, but as it was pouring, we failed to take a single photo of Belize. Oh well!

Our bus dumped us in a market in Chetumal, and with the help of a supremely helpful local we soon had lunch, pesos and a taxi to take us to the next bus terminal. First impression of mexico was excellent!

We decided to stop for the night in Tulum, and ended up in what was arguably our worst hostel yet (although it was so cheap and had a functional fan we didn't care too much). We set off for dinner, only to have our decision made quickly for us when we were caught in a huge thunder and lightning storm which lasted for more than 10minutes, and so the restaurant we'd taken shelter in was our default dinner.

The next morning we lazed about, debating about going to the beach (there are more ruins there) or just pushing on to Isla Mujeres - our final destination. We decided to push on, as there was a perfectly good beach there! Before going we googled the situation in Belize and counted ourselves lucky - no boats, no buses, no planes from anywhere in Belize that day.

Getting to Isla Mujeres was a piece of cake, and soon we were settled in in our lovely budget hotel (final splash out!) and tucking into some tacos and cervezas. For the afternoon we thought we'd laze about and watch a movie - probably a good choice, as when we ventured outside for dinner we found all the streets flooded in ankle deep water from an hour of solid rain!

The next day was a bit stormy - we headed to the beach in the morning (thank you free deck chairs and beach towels!) to a nice spot under the trees to sit and read our books and swim when we felt like it. It was pretty humid, and very very black over the mainland. Sure enough in the afternoon there was more ankle deep water in the streets, but by now the tailend of Hurricane Earl was gone.

The remainder of our days here (another 4) was spent the same - morning beach / book / swim, followed by lunch - tacos or pitas, then olympics, yatzee and book on the deck, and finally dinner. It was pretty excellent and a great relaxing way to wind up the trip. We didn't go snorkelling, we didn't explore the island, we barely did anything, and I think it was exactly what we needed.

Richard modelling the deck chairs

The view from the book

Sadly all good things come to an end, and so 5am on our last morning we were up and heading for the boat, to get the shuttle to the airport to catch our flight to Mexico City. This was ridiculously pain free as well - Mexican transport just seems to work! The flight over Mexico City was pretty incredible - the city seemed to stretch forever with no ability to see its edges.
Once safely on the ground we took the Metro in to our hostel, which cost a total of 60c for the 2 of us, and was great fun trying to navigate.

We are staying really close to the main square, which when we arrived was filled with over 10 000 people protesting (which had stopped us from being able to catch the bus from the airport as they were blocking the roads). Having wandered around, its exciting to be in the hussle and bussle of a big city again, with no particular plans.

For our full day in the city, we planned to meet up with a couple of friends for a coffee, meaning we were going to ride the metro again! - unfortunately, where google told us the cafe was and reality were different. One internet cafe to the rescue and we were back on track.

Afterwards, we were back on the metro and heading to the modern art museum. Richard and I decided we have no artistic taste as we both agreed that most of the art there was horrible and we seriously dislike Picasso. En route back to the metro, we passed by bicycle school - were both children and adults were seen navigating a variety of obstacles in learning to ride. It was pretty funny but also great to see people getting out and active in a city where there is literally 5 McDonalds within a 5 minute walk of our hostel.

Finally we hit the souvenir market, in the hope that we might finally actually buy some souvenirs. Sadly everything that we thought was vaguely cool was several hundred dollars more expensive than we were prepared to pay. Oh well!

Afternoon once again disappears into Olympic land...

Tomorrow morning we have another early start to get the 5am metro to the airport...
Its hard to believe the trip has finally come to an end - only 4 more plane rides (yes I know its insane) and then we will be safely back in NZ and heading off skiing!
We've had pretty great trip, seen some incredible things, and met some cool people along the way. Highlights in include our tramps of the Ausangate in Peru and Bariloche to Pampa Linda in northern Patagonia, all of Colombia, snorkelling in Honduras, and sunrise over Acatenango in Guatemala.
We think we are pretty lucky that in 6 months (touch wood) we have not been robbed, seriously ill, lost anything, had anything other than the voodoo stick break, or a single bus break down!

But for now - see you soon NZ!


Posted by VGH on tour 13:47 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Long bus rides, Northern Guatemala and into Belize

yet another change of plans..

View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

We made it back to Antigua reasonably pain free - the shuttle driver took some crazy back road route to avoid the humongous traffic jam as we approached Antigua/Guatemala City. We then struggled our way around town to find somewhere to stay - should have learnt from last time that nearly everything in Antigua is always booked out. At hostel number 6 we eventually found dorm beds.

The next day we headed for the markets in the hope of buying some hammocks - sadly no one would budge below like $30NZD per hammock and so we walked away. We did however score Yatzee for $2.50NZD, so that makes a nice change from monopoly. We also picked up a huge papaya and a watermelon for a total of $2NZD which was an excellent lunch!
On the way home Richard risked a haircut at the local barbers - where I got to explain in my best spanish not to cut it too short as the front was difficult to cut. It cost $3, and was probably one of the best haircuts Richard has ever paid for! The barber did offer to shave Richard too, but he wussed out, leaving him with 1cm shaved below his sideburns, and the rest of his face half a centimetre long - an excellent look!

While in Antigua, our plans for where to next continued to go astray. We could not go south / east - its away from our plane. We could not go west - the buses to Mexico were cancelled due to riots in San Cristobal. We could now go north - Semuc Champey had just opened, after being closed for a few weeks during a violent military takeover - sounds safe right? We were failing in our attempts to go NE to Belize - everything we could think of was fully booked.
So eventually we decided to head to Semuc Champey and hope for the best - our hostel in Antigua rang a hostel in Semuc for us to make a booking (there is really no functional internet there), and we thought we'd be organised and book a hostel for Flores (the place we'd head afterwards) so we wouldn't have to worry about a late arrival.

The shuttle to Semuc Champey was semi painful - we were told maybe 7 hours, and it took 10 hours to Lanqui. We were a bit nervous as along the way there were blatantly areas along the road where locals had made a few makeshift road blocks which were not quite cleared up yet. Once in Lanquin we had another 40minute ride on the back of a ute with an Israeli family, 1 Canadian and 4 Germans. It was a bumpy ride and all our bags kept falling all over us. We made it to Utopia (our hostel) right on dark, but luckily in time for the "family style" dinner - else we hadn't eaten anything serious since breakfast! Sadly for Richard it was vegetarian.

Our hostel was set in the middle of nowhere, which was kind cool for the scenery, but mostly great as it meant we could walk to the park where the limestone pools were (rather than taking the $40 tour).

Our hostel

The balcony view

So the next morning we set off early - 8am (as advised to avoid the heat), before most of our hostel had rolled out of bed to hit the park.


We were lucky enough to get picked up on the road by a ute with a few american tourists in it, who gave us a free ride most of the way there - super nice! The local driver stopped on the bridge right before the park entrance to jump off the bridge (leaving his car in the middle of the bridge) - just to prove to us that yes you could jump.


On arriving to the park itself, we were greeted by half of the Guatemala military having breakfast. There were tents, no fewer than 10 military trucks, 50 soldiers and a few policeman running around. Definately not intimidating at all - given we were the only people not armed! The local people who signed us in to the park did so with over the top properness - I suspect they were being intimidated by the general who was following them, taking photos of us/the locals observing "proper entry procedure". But without too much fuss we were in the park, and wandering around. More or less totally alone, except for the extra soldiers we ran into every 10 minutes or so.

Climbing to the view point was rather muggy - super pleased to be doing this early morning! It also meant there were no pesky tourists obscuring our photos of the pools below.

The steps up were pretty steep


Then it was a quick hop skip and jump down to the limestone pools themselves, where we spent the next 3 hours chilling - swimming, being nibbled at by fish, reading our books and generally enjoying the solitude. Around 50 tourists showed up after we had been there for 2 hours - but up until that point we were totally alone (again except for 3 soldiers, who we fed some papaya), which was really awesome. These same 3 soldiers became less intimidating by the second, after they were witnessed asking the latino bikini clad girls to pose with them for photos!



Eventually we decided to head to the nearby limestone caves, and maybe in search of some food. We arrived at the caves at the same time as the 4 germans from the day before - so the 6 of us were taken into the cave system by candle light. Here we climbed a few ladders (or in Richard's case, the waterfall) and jumped off a rock into a dark pool, slid down a waterfall, and dropped off another. It was pretty cool, and the candles gave it a great atmosphere!

Afterwards we hit the rope swing into the river - it was fun while it lasted. I went 4th, and managed to land "the most gracefully of anyone" but gave myself whiplash, and winded myself, so it was game over for me.

We then wandered back to Utopia, and spent the late afternoon playing Yatzee while it poured with rain. We timed our walk home very very well.

The next day was another transport day. This one was even less fun than the last. We had been told it takes 8.5 hours by the shuttle company, 10 hours by people who had actually done it. So of course it took 12.5hours for us. The only saving grace was the shuttle bus was half empty, and so we had lots of wriggle room! The worst part was the 1.5hour wait for the barge across a river to restart due to a small tropical storm passing by.
On arriving in Flores we had no idea whether we had accommodation or not - as the last we heard from our hostel they had made the booking in the wrong month, and told us they would cancel it by 5pm (we arrived at 7:30pm). Since that email we had emailed back asking them to please make it in July and hold the room til 9pm - but had had no wifi since to know the outcome!

Luckily we got to the hostel and they still had our room. While in the line to check in, we also heard that we got our GP jobs in Nelson - yay!
On the downside, Richard has caught man flu from one of the short term tourists (who is pretty much everyone we have met), who comes on holiday and gets sick.

But though we were tired and grumpy, we decided we needed to go out and celebrate - so we headed out for a nice dinner. And it was pretty nice - we had a platter (sorry Michael) of steak, ribs, chicken fillet and Argentian chorizo. It was amazing!

The next day we decided, despite the fact we were exhausted, that we were suckers for punishment. So we got up at 4am, to go and see Tikal before it got really hot for the day.
Retrospectively, we could have given Tikal a miss. It was some ruins, they were expensive. They were no more impressive than the ruins in Copan, and there weren't even any macaws to distract us (though there were a few spider monkeys). Luckily we managed to catch the 11am shuttle back to Flores, and so were home in time for lunch and the afternoon tropical storm, and a movie marathon in our hostels movie lounge. We realised on wandering around looking for lunch, that there is absolutely nothing to do in Flores during the day, and no one around either, so we were 'happy' to be moving on the next day.

Richard with his new haircut



Because we REALLY like early mornings, the next day we were off again by 7am (Richard vetoed the 5am shuttle). Several hours later he was regretting that decision, when a poor Colombian on our bus was being interrogated by Belize immigration, and so we had to wait in the baking heat for the poor bloke for 2 whole hours (did I mention our bus had no A/C? and the 2 person seat was more like a 1.5 person seat).
Finally we made it to Belize City, we were told by the luggage boys we had just missed the boat to Caye Caulker and there wasn't another one for 1.5 hours. Dammit!

Luckily as I was wandering down to buy tickets I heard "Last call for Caye Caulker!" Quickly I bought tickets, Richard grabbed the luggage and we were on the boat. Finally a win for the day! The boat ride over was reasonably pleasant and over in 45 minutes.

We wandered down to our guesthouse (which we had decided to splash out and get A/C), only to find that the room we had booked we had to pay 50% more to actually get the A/C, as apparently it was an optional extra! GARHHH. By this point we were drenched in sweat and so decided we had to suck it up and pay. Very pleased we did.

The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling in our A/C.. mmm... and then eventually out for a bite to eat (for me, Richard with his man flu decided he didn't need food)

For our first whole day in Belize we decided that we needed sleep - and managed to sleep in until 10am. OMG it was nice! We then passed the rest of the morning reading in the hammocks, and eventually dragged ourselves out for a kayak / swim. Caye Caulker was split into 2 islands a few years ago with a hurricane, and so we kayaked up to the northern half (which is less developed), found an abandoned nice looking hotel, and spent some time relaxing on their swings and over the water hammock, before heading back for some more A/C goodness when the mossies started to come out.

Tomorrow we will probably head out snorkelling, before escaping this expensive piece of paradise the following day, for a week of beach time in Mexico, and then its home time!

Posted by VGH on tour 17:16 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guatemalan sunrises

and a sudden rerouting..

View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

The shuttle from Copan Ruinas, Honduras, to Antigua Guatemala was pretty painful - traffic, bus crashes (not ours obviously) and endless roadwork made what should have been a 6 hour journey into an 8.5 hour marathon.

Eventually we arrived in Antigua, after dark, in the central park. My first impression of Antigua was hilarious - the fountain in the middle of the park has topless women with water shooting out of their nipples! Of course!
As a rule we try to never arrive in a new country on a Sunday, or after dark, as usually it makes everything harder. We broke both our rules in one go here. Luckily it didn't come back to bite us and we found our way to our hostel (which had been a nightmare to find anything available!) We were pleasantly surprised with our hostel - it seemed clean and had incredible hot showers - the first we had had since Costa Rica!

That night we wandered around town looking for something small to eat (we were both a bit sick), and stumbled upon a crepe restaurant where people were lining up to go into! A girl sold it to us as; "if you are thinking about crepes, stop thinking and just line up, they are awesome." It was jolly good advice - that night we each got a dessert crepe - mine was blackberry, chocolate and icecream, where Richard got apples, cinammon, walnuts and icecream. The were so good we ate way more than our stomachs had been allowing for, so poor Richard suffered all night long.
But not put off, we ate there every day that we were in Antigua. We did decide though that our original order was for the win.

Our first complete day in Antigua we spent wandering around the colonial town, marvelling at how it was cool enough in the evenings that I wanted to wear a cardigan! We decided that we'd quite like to go and climb the nearby volcano of Acatenango, and so set about finding the cheapest company - prices ranged from $18USD to $180USD for exactly the same tour!
Once that was sorted, we set about emptying our packs, so they could be used for our tramp. This was pretty painful, as all our tramping gear was well stashed in the bottom of our packs, and was last removed when we were in Peru :(

But next morning we were off! First in a shuttle - where there were more people than seats, and it was so jammed up that neither Richard or I could put our feet on the floor - maybe this is where people who pay more win? Soon enough we arrived at the bottom of the mountain - a cool 2400m, to begin our ascent.
It had been described to us as "the first hour or two is hard", then "its not so bad after that" followed by "the next morning is REALLY hard". We figured it probably wouldn't be too bad - lucky too as we got saddled with carrying a 5 man tent up the mountain (luckily we gave it away for coming down) PLUS 4L of "essential" water each. For the first time we had done any serious exercise in 2 months, it wasn't quite the walk in the park we expected.

It was pretty much straight uphill for the first hour and a half, then got a bit less steep. By the time we stopped for lunch, my stamina had finally caught up and I was doing fine. Richard had continued his usual tactics and was being given a hard time by the Aussies in our group for "having not even broken a sweat yet"

Arriving at the lunch spot

From there we hit the cloud level, and started the sidle around to base camp. After another 2 hours we arrived at the base camp and proceeded to set up the tents. We were surprised - it was COLD here. Like NZ cold! Lucky for us we had polypro top/bottom plus over trouser, puffer jacket and rain coat, gloves and beanies, so we were ok (inside the tent). Others in our group looked frozen.

The guides got a fire going to cook up our 2 minute noodle dinner, and after it got dark we were rewarded with the clouds occasionally lifting, so we could get an excellent view of Volcan Fuego erupting nearby. (prior to this we had been able to hear the explosions, but see nothing)



We hit our beds early, as we were getting up at 3:30am to ascend the rest of the volcano for sunrise. At this point Richard realised his torch batteries were dead, and mine were so close to dead a smart phone light was significantly better than mine. Dulp!

3:30am rolled around all too soon and time to get up, and stumble our way up the mountain. It was like walking up fine scree - 2 steps up, slide one back, for about an hour or so. We were on the top (3967m ish) shortly after 5am, and it was FREEZING up there. So so pleased for windproof layers. But it was amazing - the best sunrise I have every seen.
Richard took a million photos, so here is a selection








All too soon it was time to descend (although probably to the relief of much of our frozen group), pack the tents (which apparently us Kiwi's cannot pronounce properly), and wander back down the hill.
We thought the walk down went fine, but man oh man were our legs sore the next day! Richard was hobbling around town like a cripple!

On returning to Antigua we decided to stick around for 24 hours to get washing down (and eat more crepes!) before heading to Lago Atitlan.

When we did arrive in San Pedro La Laguna, we were happy to find that in the rooms either side of us were the Austrian girls from our tent, and the dutch couple who were in the tent beside us!
While here we had all kinds of grand plans as to what we would do - go swimming, go kayaking, get up to see sunrise from the Indian Nose view point and maybe have a bath in the hot pools on the lake edge.
In the end we slept a lot, read some terrible books, and did this morning get up for another sunrise (though much less impressive, but also only a 20min walk involved)



Richard is in desperate need of a haircut! We got up waay too early today

This afternoon we are off to the baths before catching a shuttle back to Antigua. From there we hope to go to Belize tomorrow. Our plans to go to the north of Guatemala have been foiled by security threats, men with guns and road blocks, so instead we are doing some stupid circling. But we figure this late in our trip why risk it?
Looking forward to some snorkelling in Belize!

Posted by VGH on tour 08:47 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Honduran hideaways

View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

Leaving Nicaragua (by comparison to entry) was a breeze. Our van came at 2am, we were only 3 for the whole van, so we could stretch out and sleep a bit. Customs took a whole 5 minutes, and we were away.
We passed through the Honduran countryside - initially a noticeable difference due to the prevalence of logging, and hammock vendors on the side of the highway. We stopped a few times for food / toilet breaks, but made it to the ferry terminal over an hour before it was due to leave.
The shuttle was easily the most hassle free amazing transport we have had in 5 months of travelling. Had we done this trip without it, there was no way of doing it in a single 24 hour period (and this included flying), so it was well worth it.

The boat out was a bit of an experience - 1.5hours on slightly rough seas (think Cook Strait crossing on a slightly rough day). There were 4 people sea sick in our immediate surrounds. Luckily we were not victims too.
On arriving in Roatan, we headed out to West End, where Steve and his friend Jesse were. Lucky they had reserved us spots in the dorm - we arrived after the office had technically closed for the evening due to the slow ferry!

It was super nice to see Steve, and have Jesse around to hang with for the week - Steve was leaving for Canada the next morning and so we figured we would have been unlikely to see him at all.
But they showed us all the local hangouts - like the baleada shop, where the boys were pretty much on first name basis with the staff (it ended up being the only place we ate out the entire week).

Sunset from the baleada shop

Baleadas and monopoly

The next day Steve headed off, and we recovered from our long journey, treating ourselves to our third sleep in in 5 months.
After that we were all in snorkelling mode - we made sure we got out each day for a snorkel - we saw huge moray eels, heaps of snapper, barracuda, lots of other coral fish and it was pretty awesome. The highlight was when we thought we saw a sea snake. On further googling, we learnt that there are in fact no sea snakes in the Caribbean Sea, and what we had seen was a spotted snake eel. It was still pretty awesome!
We also headed out on one dive - where we did some cool swim throughs in the coral, including one through millions of tiny whitebait sized fish - where they were so dense it was hard to see the person in front of you.
Seriously cool!

On one of our snorkelling trips, we headed out from a slightly different spot, and it meant we would have to swim across the boat channel. Here, just before we hopped in the water, a local guy, Billy, came running up to us, asking if we were heading out. We said we were, so immediately, he ran off to get his gear and decided he wanted to come for a swim with us too. Billy was super nice, and taught us lots of facts about the reef - like the sand on the reef is from parrot fish, who eat the coral and then poop sand, up to 200 pounds per year! It was great to see a local so enthusiastic about his home island.

On one of the days, it was Jesse's birthday, and so we decided to try and make him cake (as we had seen those Betty Crocker cake mixes at the supermarket and knew we had an oven). But try as we might - and we visited 4 different dairys / supermarkets, asked at the hostel, asked at the restaurant in front of the hostel and anyone else who would listen, we could not get hold of a cake tin.
Luckily the supermarket sold Oreo flavoured pie crusts, and so we quickly resolved to fill one of these with icecream, cover in M&Ms and we were away. Shame it was a bit windy for the candles to light though.


In the harbour at West End, there is also this old sailing ship, which has been semi abandoned as a playground. There is an incredible rope swing, and the ability to get some seriously good swinging going if the people on board rock the boat. We made good use of this, though my arms and abs have not done so much hard work for a while!

Said ship was out near the point

The only downside about Roatan was the mossies. They were so bad around the hostel, that we were unable to sit outside without being monstered. I think we got more bites there in a single night, than we have in probably the rest of our trip combined!

After about a week out on Roatan we decided to call it quits and head towards Guatemala. Unfortunately the long distances meant that we had to make another stop in Honduras along the way - but luckily the choice of where to stop was pretty obvious.
The route from Roatan involves a 6am collectivo, 7am boat ride, 9am collectivo, 9:30am bus, 3pm bus (with an hour long wait in the murder capital of the world), and arriving in Copan Ruinas at 7:30pm - pretty much on the border.

The plus side is this town seems pretty safe, and there are some nice Mayan ruins, so we decided to stay for a day and check them out. Extra bonus - there is a macaw recovery project running here too, and so at the entrance to the ruins are a bunch of Macaws (who have recently begun to breed!) So we chased them around taking photos for a while. Hilariously, they make the same noise as when Richard impersonates dinosaurs - so they "chatted" for a while.





But there were also ruins there... though the birds were totally the highlight


Its quite nice here in Copan - not nearly so hot (although Roatan was also cooler than Nicaragua). We have also been making good use of the local fruits - today we ate an entire papaya (the size of a small watermelon) and a pineapple for lunch, and the two together cost $3NZD.
But we are semi looking forward to another 7hour bus ride to Guatemala tomorrow - mostly as we hear rumours that Guatemala's temperatures are even lower...

Ultimately, Honduras has been great - though it has a really bad reputation for security, we have found the locals to be incredibly friendly, more so than anywhere else we have been so far - even strangers in the bus station (who are catching their own buses), have stopped to make sure we got to where we were meant to be going. Its been great!

Posted by VGH on tour 13:36 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Nica time

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So we made it back to San Jose, and then onwards in to Nicaragua, reasonably pain free... Except the 3 hour line to get out of Costa Rica, and the Nicaraguan entry process which was complete chaos, including lines of shouting people (as our whole bus got to skip to the front of the customs line)

From the border we had a short bus ride to Rivas, where we were allowed to get off, and negotiate an over priced taxi to the edge of Lake Nicaragua to the ferry to get out to the island - Ometepe, which is made of twin active volcanoes. Luckily we had swapped our $20NZD of Costa Rican money to Nicaraguan money on the border, as we didn't find an ATM until we reached the island - and so paying for the taxi, lunch and ferry would have been pretty tricky!

When we got out to Ometepe we were quickly swamped by people who wanted us to go and stay at their hostel (we had been travelling for 12 hours at this point) - so we ignored them all and went for our own wander around. Eventually we settled on a hostel for the night (with the plan to move further around the island the next day). Unfortunately (or fortunately) within 30minutes of being in the room, we noticed there were bed bugs, and so were promptly moved. A lucky escape I think..

Next morning we headed out to the small "village" of Santa Cruz on a chicken bus. While trying to get on said chicken bus with my pack on, I managed to hit my pack on the door frame, causing me to fall backwards, back out of the bus, and scraped the whole front of my shin pretty hard - instant swelling, loss of sensation to an area of skin. Now the swelling has gone down, there isn't even much bruising to show for it!
On this bus we met a professional photographer, who convinced us to get off the bus at Santa Cruz - this wasn't our original destination. But he promised the best sunset on the island, and who were we to argue!

Our hostel certainly did have a pretty sweet view of one of the volcanoes and some perfectly aligned hammocks - optimising breeze and volcano view for a few days of serious book reading. Sunset was pretty epic too - we were so caught up in watching it we failed to get any photos!
We even got our first sleep in since Buenos Aires, which was pretty amazing too.


For our only island based activity we decided to walk along the beach to the Ojo de Agua - a natural spring of water for a swim


The walk was extremely hot, and slightly further than we expected - meaning we wished for our hats and sunscreen.. but when we arrived getting in the lovely clear water was amazing. There was a slack line set up here too, so Richard tried his hand at this, until he fell in and landed on a rock


We managed to get a chicken bus about halfway home, saving us from the heat too..

So after a few days we were feeling very much alive again and travel ready, so decided to head back to the mainland and check out Granada - a small colonial town that people seem to love.
So boat, taxi, chicken bus, walk combo and we found our hostel in Granada.

Holy moly it was hot in Granada, and even worse in our dorm room. First impressions of Granada was boredom. We walked around the whole town in about an hour, and left with no idea what people do here. Yes its pretty, but so are lots of other places.
Unfortunately that night Richard didn't sleep more than an hour due to the heat.

So the next day we got ourselves on a shuttle out to Lago de Apoyo - a nearby crater lake for a day of swimming. This was by far the best idea yet - the water was cool and clear. We had a great day swimming, having diving competitions from the swimming platform, kayaking, playing cards and reading.

Short rain shower, coming across the lake


Getting back to town was pretty hilarious though - we waited for our shuttle at 4pm, and sure enough someone turned up and waved us in, so in we hopped without question, and began ascending out of the crater. At the top of the crater we saw a van drive past with our shuttle company logo on it, and realised that perhaps we were in the wrong vehicle - quickly confirmed by the cross driver who had to now take us all the way back down again to catch our actual ride! ops!

Once we got back to town we had a quick turn around to head out to volcan Masaya - an actually active volcano, where you can see real lava (for the last 3 months the lava lake has been getting bigger and bigger)
We weren't quite sure what we were in for, as each car load is sent up in groups, and only gets 15-20 minutes at the top before being sent down again.
It was pretty epic, photos don't do it justice...


The following morning we decided we'd had enough of Granada and to head to Leon, which everyone seems to love. Following a bus, shuttle, cycle taxi combo we again arrived at our hostel - this time with A/C.
We spent the afternoon wandering around town, and again within an hour began to wonder what on earth people do here. We decided the volcano boarding sounded like an expensive 30seconds, and is not worth it...

Overall Nicaragua has not lived up to our expectations. The island was nice (and the highlight of Nicaragua), but not a highlight of the trip. The towns we have visited were pretty boring, and though swimming in the crater lake was nice, its something that one can do anywhere..
On that note, we have decided to cut our time here short and boost through to the Bay Islands in Honduras, in the hope of finding something more interesting to do...

Posted by VGH on tour 07:38 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

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