Granada to Utila

So we got to Granada next, which was nice enough, but I wasn´t that impressed. Just another big town. We did find some unique foods – like fried cheese with honey on top. Which was not as good as it sounds. And we found a food I´d been craving for a year, ever since Ecuador Humitas! Well, they call them something different here, but they´re the same thing. Young corn ground up, stuffed in a banana leaf and made into a tamale. They are sweet (naturally, without sweeteners), and absolutely delicious. They are also a decidedly messy food, since they get everywhere. But it´s worth it!

After that we caught a bus to Masaya, intending to wake up and go to the Volcano there in the morning. We got off the bus too early in Masaya however, which was a much larger town than I had thought, so we had to wander ¨6 blocks¨ into the center of town to find hotels. It was closer to 2 miles, after dark in a strange town, but it was nice anyway I got to eat more street food, which is my number-1 favorite thing to do in Central America. This time fried potato cakes with sauerkraut on top!

So we finally found a hotel and next morning we were up at 7 to go to the volcano. Negotiated an appropriate price with the taxi, got there, only to find out it didn´t open for another hour yet. (Who knew volcanos closed at night??) so anyway, we didn´t want to wait so we skipped Masaya and went on to Managua. From there after finding a bus in yet another hectic bus station, we headed for the Honduran border. But first, the bus had to cruise through the local market, very slowly, trying to find more passengers. This made me unbearably hungry by tempting me with food on all sides, so I hopped out to go buy food. This freaked Crystal out, who stayed behind, but I knew what I was doing. Really! So I found some more Humitas and hopped back on the bus just in time and this way I didn´t have to ride hungry!

At the border, we were disappointed to find that they didn´t stamp our passports. But they did give me a FREE Honduras map (after I paid them 7$ to let me into their country) hey, maybe the map wasn´t free?

Anyway, I did learn a lesson here that I already knew, but this helped to cement it. That lesson is, always agree on a price firmly up front before letting anyone do anything for you. See, this is a rather long walk across the border here, and we were tired, so these tricycle taxis showed up to take us across. I asked how much, and he said ¨a small tip only¨ so I left it at that. Big mistake. They took us across the border, guided us through immigration, not that we really needed any guiding, it was a snap, and then they asked for their tip. So I gave them 3$ for the both of them. They had a hissy fit and demanded 20$. For a 30 minute ride. I said not a chance and offered them 4. They demanded 15 and were both screaming at me and quite a crowd had gathered. So I offered 5, and they were protesting and demanding 10. What I should have done at this point was, instead of offering more money, start offering less. Less or nothing. That would have solved the problem.

Anyway, I think I wound up paying them 10$ to make them go away. Then the tension broke and the locals all started laughing. One of them who wasn´t laughing pulled me aside and told me to always agree on a price before hand because I had just been fleeced. He said these guys had earned about 50 cents and I´d given them 10 dollars. He was quite angry at them. Oh well. I learned the lesson and so I consider it money well spent.  So then we caught a collectivo, (shared taxi-bus), which is always cramped and overcrowded. Then we caught a real bus to Tegucigalpa, spent the night there (it was raining, so it wasn´t a very nice impression the town left) .

Catching a bus in Latin America is always interesting. The buses hire hawkers to go out and pull you in from the street to their bus/ticket window/office. And these hawkers will lie and do anything they have to do to get you to their bus. They´ll tell you the other buses leave later, are slower, are broken – even when the other bus hawkers are right there, telling you that these buses have bad seats and stink, then they start cussing at each other, it´s quite an experience. I generally assume both are lying and ignore them and find my own way if possible.

As we left Tegucigalpa the next morning we passed through a market, so I leaned out the window and bought some more humitas from a lady on the street. Just asked for them and she ran up the bus window as it was pulling away and I gave her the money. Like a dollar for 4 huge humitas.

After we got to San Pedro Sula, we saw our first real bus station. Up until now they had all been, even in the cities, scattered over several blocks with independent stations. But in SPS they had a real, huge, bus terminal where all the buses stopped. Which made it much easier to find your connection. We stopped there for awhile and had lunch, which was nachos and mondongo. Mondongo, for the uninformed, is essentially beef gut soup. It was better than it sounds. Gigantic bowl for 2$ too.

Then we took a bus to La Ceiba, where the ferry leaves for Utila. Had plantain french fries for dinner, with fried chicken. I ordered one, but he understood one for each of us, so we got two. Then I tried to get a to-go box for the one I hadn´t eaten and he put in an order for a third one. Luckily I stopped him before he got it made and explained that no, I JUST wanted a box, not another meal!

It was still raining the next morning, and we had heard the boat left at 9 am. So we were up early because the taxi drivers told us the bus system was very hard to navigate. I was skeptical, but I wanted to make sure we didn´t miss it, so at 7am we started walking towards the bus stop. Found it and in a half hour we were at the boat dock. So it wasn´t that hard after all, it was yet another taxi driver lie after all, us taking the bus cost him a 5 dollar fare!

As it happened, the boat wasn´t scheduled to leave until 9:30. As it happened, it was late and didn´t leave until 10:30. So we had 3 hours to wait. The ticket counter had one extremely slow woman taking the tickets, and at least a 150 people in line, so it took about 2 of those hours just to get everyone a ticket.

Then, as the boat loaded, they loaded the bags separately and put them in a dry hold. So most of the people finally got on, and then as we were pulling away from the dock, there were about 10 people who the boat refused to let on. They said it was full. But they already had stowed their bags on the boat, and they had bought tickets! So of course the people started raising a stink and eventually they consented to let them ride.

The boat ride over was extremely rough. A large percentage of people got sea sick. I would have loved to have the dramamine concession on that boat. I of course thought it was quite fun. Some of the swells were at least 15´ tall and the boat had quite a bounce when it dropped to the bottom. Most of the boat was wrapped in a plastic cover to keep the passengers dry, and it was quite a large boat. However, there was space outside the plastic in the bow of the boat for passengers to ride, and I knew the bouncing was worst on the front of the boat, and naturally that is where I wanted to be.

It was rather cold this morning, and as I said, somewhat rainy. And with these waves, we were constantly drenched while being bounced. For about an hour. And I mean, really soaked. I have a picture of one of the waves hitting us, but I can´t upload it right now. But it was quite an exhilirating ride. When I got off I had been soaked so many times that I had salt caked on my skin. And that brings us to Utila, where we spent nearly a week, and that will be the next entry

Posted on February 15th, 2009 by Natnee and filed under Honduras, Nicaragua | No Comments »

Ometepe, Nicaragua

So on entering Nicaragua we had to pay 7$, some sort of an entry tax or something. It was a rather long walk across a bridge, and they really didnt have things signed well, so we basically followed the flow of people. They had a huge line, and people kept cutting in at the very front. But we didnt really have to be anywhere, so anyway. After getting out of immigration, we were looking for a bus to Rivas, Nicaragua. One bus (the big, expensive international buses) quoted us 5$. I thought, nah so we were looking for a chicken bus to ride, when we were beset by taxi drivers. They tend to throng in certain places like piranha. Anyway, we were off to find a bus and they kept telling us this bus didnt go there, that one stopped all over the place, etc. I knew they were lying, but I also knew that the best way to bargain a cheap taxi fare was to let them know I really didnt care whether I rode a bus or a taxi.

So I asked the price, they quoted me 15$. I smiled and went back to bus-hunting. They chased me down and said 12$. I looked very serious for a moment, and said ten. They looked at each other, and one agreed. The buses were awfully rickety, and while I would have enjoyed the ride, it would have taken a long time and wed been traveling solid for 2 days. So we took the taxi since I figure that was a fair price. Although I probably could have gotten it for 8$. Still.

We found a market that had that papaya I showed in the last post. It was spread over a dozen blocks, arranged by type – food, clothes, etc; it was a great fun. I bought all sorts of street food. A tortilla with mozzarella type-cheese, filled with sauerkraut and topped with sour cream and chili sauce. It was actually quite good! Called a quesilla.

I then walked around looking for tannin, since a friend wanted me to bring some home. I spent about an hour looking for it, and only got blank stares. So no luck there. Used internet for a few hours at 60 cents an hour, instead of the 2-3$ Id been paying in Costa Rica, which was quite cool. Meals were 1.50$ or so, and I bought this gigantic tub of soup for 1.75$. I mean, it was like 50 ounces. It was huge. And delicious. I love their soups here. Anyway, after wandering around for a few hours enjoying soaking up some real latin american culture after being in Costa Ricas antiseptic environment, we caught a boat for Ometepe.

Ometepe is a textbook-perfect volcano. Actually, pair of volcanoes. That rise from the middle of the gigantic lake Nicaragua. One of the only (if not the only?) lakes in the world that has sharks in it. Interesting story about that, when they were discovered the pro-evolution scientists used them as a proof of evolution, that these sharks had evolved to live in fresh water over millions of years. Then finally someone thought to actually tag the sharks in question they discovered that these sharks actually migrated up to this lake from the ocean through the river, which is quite a feat. This was rather embarassing after having been used as a proof of evolution, so they stopped using that example :)

Apparently, sharks can actually live in fresh water environments without millions of years to adapt. Of course, because of fishing and pollution they are not very common anymore. Anyway, back to the volcanoes themselves, they are quite beautiful, and lava flows formed an isthmus between them forming a single island.

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I really liked Ometepe. Granted, things were a bit higher there, but not much. And it was very laidback, they grow a good portion of their own food on the island, the people were really nice, and things were all well cared-for.

In fact, we were both struck by how much happier Nicas were than Ticos (Nicaraguans vs Costa Ricans). They were more cheerful, they were feeding the seagulls off the boat, and were much more open and friendly and unhurried than their wealthier neighbors to the south. I guess wealth brings with it responsibility. And when it brings too much responsibility, and sucks all the fun out of life, maybe it isnt wealth at all?

We chose the Hacienda Merida, on the southern volcano, to spend the night, since it said it had an all-you-can-eat buffet and served brown rice, whole wheat bread, and things like that. That is all we eat, so we had been quite bread-starved going through Central America thus far. But we got to the dock at around 5:30, and found that this hotel was clear around the island, which was much bigger than I had thought.

So we walked into a place that said free tourist information, (knowing that nothing is ever free) and said we wanted to go to this hotel. He said no, all the buses had already left and a taxi would be like 30$. Then he said Oh, wait a minute! and ran outside, and came back in yelling the owner is here, he is here! And he will take you to his hotel!.

This remarkable good fortune was at first looked at with skepticism by myself, having been burned before. But it was true, he was, and he refused to accept any money for carrying us there. So an hour and a half later, we got to the hotel. Starving (Im glad it was All-You-Can-Eat!).

So we had the buffet, which at 5.75$ each was quite expensive for here, but it was all you can eat and it was healthy. So even I, a reknowned cheapskate, didnt mind paying it.  I opted out of breakfast the next morning, at 4$, since I didnt see anything I really wanted to try.

Things at this hotel are rather expensive if you stay for one day, but if you stay longer it gets cheaper. For example: Kayaks are 4$ an hour. They are 15$ for your entire stay. Same price for bicycles. Etc. Its a little skewed, but I still rented a kayak and we paddled out to monkey island. They had a sign up which said stay away from monkey island. They are agressive! – Like I listen to signs like that!

It was about a 15-minute kayak trip in our two-person kayak. Two small islands nearby to one another, I wasnt sure which was which, but we decided to circle both. Took a few pictures of birds en route, but it wasnt until we got around to the other side of the second island that we saw the monkeys. Arent they cute?

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Then we got closer, so we could get some GOOD pictures. Then they got angry.

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So here Crystal is, this monkey like 5 feet from us, trying to fend off the monkey with a paddle, while I snap pictures of it. And shes screaming this monkeys going to eat me and all you can do is take pictures??? – I of course reminded her of how great this would look on our blog, and that if the monkey ate her it would be a great Youtube entry. Imagine the hits!

She didnt think that was nearly as funny as I did. So we paddled to a safe distance, and then back home. Some other tourists were contracting with a taxi to go back to town, at 30$ for the group of 7, so we shared the costs and caught a ride back, then caught a boat to Rivas. It was quite a rough ride, and I managed to amuse myself and the other hundred-odd passengers by adding another video to my collection

Posted on February 13th, 2009 by Natnee and filed under Nicaragua | 1 Comment »

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