Previously on the robrob show I´d just escaped rainy rainy Carribean Island Utila in Honduras, just in time it seems as the rain continued for many more days and Sam had to charter a light aircraft to fly off the island, which sounded like super funny if a little budget busting.
Leon was my first stop in Nicaragua, a beautiful small colonial town covered in murals paying respect to various armed struggles and revolutions. The centre piece for the city is a massive cathedral which for a small bribe the guard will allow you to explore. My breakfast normally involed a 25p bumper bag of fresh fruit consumed while dangling my legs over the edge of the Cathedral, admiring the view over the city to the range of a dozen volcanos, blissful.
Being such a relaxed, relatively small city which was pleasant to stroll around seemed the perfect place to finally get some Spanish study done, so I´d spend my days cooking and listening to hours of Pimsleur learn Spanish on the mp3 player. Amazingly the lessons worked a treat and I´d spend the rest of the day testing out my Spanish on shop workers and quizzing them on the various goods they had to offer. This led me to discover one of the highlights of Leon, the second hand stores! They sell all sorts of stuff with some clothing gems if you´re prepared to hunt for them, photos to follow.
An observation I´d made was since arriving in Nicargua was the amount of 80´s rock music being played by shops, bars, markets stalls and cars was very noticable, after the months of pure Reaggeaton http://tiny.cc/gasolinaaaa throughout Mexico and Central America, I then realised that a lot of the items being sold in the 2nd hand shops were retro 80´s toys etc. A theory I heard later down the line was that as Nicargua was going through a revolution and some serious changes were happening through the 80´s that, the music and items are Nostalgic and a pleasent reminder of change, sound plausible. I´ll give a visual and audio example of this when I get my ´Souvenirs for eyes and ears´ blog set up, it´s going to be sweet, watch this space.
After nearly a week in Leon I aimed to catch the 12;30 bus to Esteli in the Northern Highlands, giving me enough time to run round the city taking photos, I entered a building which had an interesting staircase on a quest to satisfy my passion for roofs. Only to be stopped on the staircase and told to wait, a jolly nice gentleman then came, took me onto the roof. Where he plucked us some mangoes from a nearby tree, we then we chatted about the volcanoes and admired the view, munching mangoes like apples, he refused to take any money for his time, the icing on the amzing cake called Leon. Hasta Luego Leon, I´ll be back.
So next up was Esteli, Nicargua´s second university city, it´s a bit of a one horse town and relatively expensive, the Graffiti scene is big there so I spent a few days renting a bike and admiring the street art. I also felt quite energetic and cycled to the highest point I could find to see the city from above, meeting a real cowboy on the way, strolling by on horseback as I rode past sweating on a ladies bike with front mounted basket, I think the manlyness competition was won by the weathered cowboy complete with cigerette in mouth and well worn hat atop a strapping horse complete with branding.
Esteli was fun but after the cowboy adventure I wanted to see some more of the remote highlands so I woke up early on Saturday morning and started hitching towards Tisey, A family in a people carrier stopped quite soon into the potential 15km walk and motioned that they had no room inside, because of the muchos ninios aboard but I could hang on the side, I said ´Si, bueno´ and off we went. They took me maybe 5km but weren´t going any further, no money expected again and I was clkoser to my destination. The road then became insanely steep as I trecked up for what was probably vertical 12km, unsure if I was actually going the correct way I stopped at the only shop I´d seen and asked if there was such a place around called Eco-Posada (lodge), some confusion but then the lady remebered there was and that it was ´just´ another 3km uphill, my reaction of fained celebration and some broken Spanish made the poeple there laugh, which felt like a breakthrough in my learning of the language, as I´d succeeded to make peopel laugh in a new language, whoo hoo! 25m into the final leg, another famnily stopped in a pick up and gave me a ride to the exact destination I was aiming for, life is sweet!
So my time at the Eco-lodge consisted of hours of Mp3 spanish lessons on top of the nearby hill/mountain, practisiing my juggling and eating rice and beans. There was no-one there who spoke English which was great for me, the lodging were super basic and very cheap, solo time in the great outdoors. I heard there was a crazy sculptor who lived nearby and set out to find him, after an hours walk through fields I found my man. An eccentric looking white wirey haired chap who was very keen to give me a tour. He had a large section of hillside which he´d planted bananas, coconuts, pineapples and organic coffee, interspersed between these were rocks which had been carved into various animals objects etc. It was a nice walk and we were zig zagging up the hillside to his Pièce de résistance, a 30 foot cliff face carved into an ever evolving mural of animals, biblical figures, an interpretation of his verios of downtown New York(?) and a Helicopter which had once flew past. A in a carvey amazing place, I showed him my apprection for the craftmanship and we sat on a bench looking out over the amzing rolling hills of Nicaraguan forest, what a dude.
Ok enough lonely time, so I headed back to Esteli to read an e-mail that Sam and crew had made it to Granada, Leons rival city, I hopped on various buses and made it to Granada before sunset, travelling quickly through Managua the capital which was a hectic sprawling city with a strange vibe.
Granada was like a touristy version of Leon which I didn´t like too much, but we made a day trip out to Laguna de Apoyo which is a crater lake, perfect for swimming and a very peculiar site to see, a circular lake sitting in a volcano crater.
Lago de Nicaragua is the biggest lake in cenntral America and contained within it is an island made up of two large volcanos, Ometepe. It also has a little island just off the coast called ´Monkey Island´ bit of a nerdy game reference but having grown up playing Monkey Island on the computer it was always an essential trip! So feeling like the swashbukling Welsh pirate Henry Morgan (who actually took over Granada with 12m canoes, some rum soaked merry men and got lots of riches) I set off for the water and to find Monkey Island!
Ometepe was incredible, we stayed at a place with a dock where we´d swim as the sun went down. Hiked the smaller Volcano called Madera, we took sandwiches, a tour guide and a bottle of Skotch. What more do we need. The hike was very tecnical and involved a fair bit of swinging through branches to get through the thicket, but we made it, and the views were beautiful. Looking over towards the higher Volcan Conception which was heavily fuming and is rumoured to be about to pop in the next few weeks, we chilled at the summit and toasted to a job well done, now for the wobbly descent.
We hired motorbike the following day figuring it´d be a nice way to see the island and the fact there were hardly any cars would mean it would be safe. The roads were rubbish with loose gravel and rocks and our abscence of motorbike skills meant it was a wobbly start, we picked it up ok after some top tips from a local chap called Elvis who popped out of the bushes next to where we´d had an unplanned lie down with the bike. It was an amazing day and we circled the volcano in around 4 hours, getting back in one piece with a few posed badmen on motorbike photos as souvenirs, result!
The following day an amiga and I hired kayaks and set off for Monkey Island! Sam had been the previous day and had been attacked by the monkey with the big balls as he´s not so keen on males hanging out with his seven monkey wives on the island, the situation ended with a few punches thrown from both sides but thankfully no bloodshed. So we decided not to dock the boat and taunt the monkeys from afar, it was nice, if a little sad as the monkeys had been put there to attract tourists, although unfortunately there´s not enough food on the tiny islands to sufficiently sustain the population, which probably explains why they´re so bad tempered, we threw them some sandwiches which they seemed to enjoy but didn´t change the look of anger on their little faces.
After successful monkey spotting we fancied some more motorbike action and so rented one for a few hours to visit the other side of the island, things were going well until on a dusty back road a pair of scruffy police men pulled us over. The skinny cop starting yabbering hard in Spanish about something, I explained I had a license and gave it to him to see, he passed it to the fat cop who glanced at it then stuffed it in his pocket, this wasn´t a good situation. He then began to demand the keys for the bike which I´d put in my pocket, naturally reluctant as I was hardly convinced they were real police, having shown no ID and no numbers to be seen on their shirts etc, although what they did have were guns. Still unprepared to hand over the keys I tried to get some clarification of what they were going to do with the bike, and couldn´t we just ring the owner to come and resolve the situation? It´s hard to communication in another language when all the words you´ve learnt have been scared out of reach by armed police, and so he just kept shouting ´Llaves!´ and motioning the application of handcuffs etc, so I kept shaking my head, when and how was this going to end?
In the end the police flagged down a passing pick up truck exchange a few words and the bike was taken from my grip and loaded on to the truck, the truck driver drove off, the fat police man wobled off on his motorbike after the truck, the skinny one revved up his bike looked me in the eyes and in a moment of lingual clarity waved and said “See ya later”. Hmmm, well at least I still had the keys. Every eventuality rushing through my brain, mostly terrible and financially trip ending, we decided to hitch hike back to the owner. A truck stopped within a few minutes and we hopped on, bouncing along towards an uncertain fate in the back of a pick up truck with some locals, surrounded by local produce, beautiful views of the volcanoes wondering if this would sour the Nicaraguan experience?
We finally arrived at the owners house after what felt like days, we found him sat round a table with his amigos, I held up the keys and he said “ah great, but where have you parked the bike?” I told the story as it happened in full, clearly shaken up by the situation. Without even standing up he calmly said “Ah right, no worries I´ll make few calls and go pick it up in the morning”
“How much is this all going to cost?” I said.
“Just give me $5 dollars for an hours rental, as that´s probably all the use you got out of it” taking a swig of beer, “Well done for not giving them the keys too, they´re bandits and would have been driving it around all night, do you need your license back?”
“I´d rather never see the police again thanks, they can keep it”
“Ok cool, put it down to experience”
We shook hands and walked away, infinitely best case scenario, elated. Nicaragua rocks. We celebrated that night with permanent smiles and plenty of the local Rum Flore De Cane. Result. The next day we left the incredible Island of Ometepe, sad to leave but having had the most amazing time.
Next stop San Juan del Sur where I´m writing this from, Surf and party central, the first night here we chipped in with a group we were traveling with and hired a three story villa on the hill with pool and partied hard. The following day I went surfing which was tricky to pick up,not being the best swimmer n that but after perseverance and a few tips from various people I got up and rode my first wave, and can now say I know the feeling that only surfers know (Billabong slogan innit). And there we have it, that´s how and why I fell love with Nicaragua, next stop Costa Rica then Carnival in Panama. I´ll keep you posted.
In other news:
· I met the leaf cutter crew, an ant based collective chopping up leaves and carrying them like sails.
· Sam purchased a badman Batman vest from a 9 year old boy for 10 cordobas (33p), both happy, fair trade, it´s ace.
Thanks for reading.
Miss you all