Into the mountains

El mejor taxi

On our way through Leon, our cab driver Marcello was an invaluable help to us. He agreed to drive us to the station where we would catch the bus to Matagalpa and… he made sure we got on the right one.

Pulling up to the rear of the parked bus, he pointed to the large Matagalpa label and double checked that we saw it.

He then helped us with our backpacks and gently guided us past the lineup of three-wheeled taxi drivers waiting to take our money for a “ticket to Matagalpa”. Cheeky buggers. Marcello gave us both a big, genuine hug. We wished him all the best and we boarded the bus – with an hour until departure. We were happy with the timing as it ensured a seat on a potentially full, Friday afternoon bus.

On board, it was an oven. Outside the oven it was 35 deg. C… so inside? But, it was a nice oven. An oven that would get us to our next destination.

How many seats do you need?

Like many autobuses, this one had a ‘crew’. Our crew was the driver and another fellow that did everything else. When I first saw him, he was selling Heather our two tickets but later on he was selling bottled water, lifting bags into racks and generally running a tight ship. At one place where we entered a main highway, he got out and directed traffic. Our tickets were purchased after a bit of confusion. He tried to sell Heather an extra ticket, but she didn’t really want one. No way. However, as communication degraded, the fact wasn’t discussed that the 2 person bench seat we had was actually for 3 people. It wasn’t apparent until the third person came and asked to sit down. Wow. So, I was up against the window on my left, my knees were under my chin because the floor was raised up under our feet and Heather was very cozy with a nice young Nica lady on her right. And the autobus still hadn’t moved.

La sinfonia de cuernos

When the autobus leapt to life right on time, we backed out to a blistering cacophony of air horns.

The symphony was courtesy of our bus saying – “OK we’re backing up!” – and a bus behind us saying, “Not OK, you better not back into me as I have to turn left out of my spot before you can even move!” One more bus was leaning on the hooter as if to say, “Uh, can’t you see I have to move before either of you guys?” And to create a shrill crescendo to the moment, the taxis started in with the beep-beeps. It was thrilling… and one of the those things that really should put a smile on your face and little chuckle under your breath. And guess what… it all worked.

On the road again…

Out on the road it was a fantastic commute. When do you get to ride in a stinkin’ hot bus, latin music playing and people singing as you zoom by active volcanoes smouldering away? As it was the express bus, there were very few stops. Wouldn’t have mattered anyway – I couldn’t move my legs and my butt was numb from being welded to the naugahyde seat.

As we neared Matagalpa, a few folks were gradually let off one or two at a time. Finally… the pressure was relieved and Heather helped me straighten my legs. I felt like I had somehow appeased the gods. Thank you!

Matagalpa

The wonderful chaos of the Matagalpa COTRAN Sur bus station greeted us. There are specific slots for the buses to pull into but we had to wait just a moment while a shiny new casket was unloaded from the top of the bus to our left.

We shared a collectivo taxi and for 50 Cordobas, within minutes we arrived at La Buena Onda Hostel. This hostel is well-run, super clean and yes, close to the core of Matagalpa.

It had been quite a day, so we dumped off our gear and put on some sweaters as it was cool and raining. (Yes, it was ONLY 21 degrees C… Bloody brrrr…)

We went for a walk and had dinner around the corner at the Luna Flor Bistro. Nice folks there – Salvador, Mina and their daughter Sochi run this very cool little spot. We were liking Matagalpa already.

Zzzzz…

We slept like sedated seniors and woke to a beautiful fresh morning in this busy little city. We had no firm plans for the day other than getting acquainted with the layout of the city, the landmarks and, of course the people.

A brief early history

Like many regions of Nicaragua, Matagalpa was originally indigenous land. It’s said that the Spaniards were fearful of the native fighters as they were very brave and knew how to use their weapons such as bows and arrows. It took the Spanish over 300 years to subdue them and even then there were some still free in the hills of the region. In 1856 the Matagalpa Indians were instrumental in ending the much-hated, William Walker’s time in Nicaragua.

Today, Matagalpa is a busy city with exports of coffee, cattle, milk products, vegetables and flowers. Ecotourism established by access to the mountainous regions nearby is growing steadily.

Que pasa?

Meeting people, learning more about this part of the country, drinking some of the best coffee in the world, enjoying the moderate climate – what could be better?

Thanks for reading our blog!

In our next blog, we’ll try to dig a little deeper into the history of this area and how people here feel about life in Nicaragua.

Las Penitas and the turtle haven

We left our hotel in Leon, backpacks on, hoping to catch a taxi on the streets nearby. Within minutes, we were in the capable hands of Marcello the cabbie. Las Penitas beach is just over 20 kilometers from Leon so the cab fare was very reasonable. We made sure to agree on the fare before jumping in… 350 Cordobas? Just fine. ($14.00 CDN)
Marcello was another one of those genuinely super-friendly Nicaraguans. We enjoyed his chilled Nica music and watched the landscape change to dry farmlands as we buzzed along.

The volcano Cerro Negro made a beautiful backdrop to the northern vista. As volcanoes go, it’s a newbie. Originally formed in 1850, it’s considered to be the youngest volcano in Central America. It’s consistently active – some of the volcano’s slopes are covered by massive volcanic rocks, others by volcanic sand.

At the end of our relaxing ride, Marcello dropped us at the door of the Simple Beach Hotel and agreed to pick us up Friday at “Diez y media”… 10:30.

The few days we’ve been in Las Penitas have been quiet and relaxing. Lots of walking up and down the long beach, good seafood, new friends,
…and lot’s of watching the surfers catch the waves.

OK, I’ll attempt to put that in surfer lingo…

So… right in front of Simple Beach, there’s a beach break with a line up area just next toa big pile of volcanic rock. Mostly, the waves are off the hook but some are blown out ‘cause of the Nica winds. To get started, most of the Kooks wait ‘till the waves knock them off their feet but the Dillas duck dive to get out to the line up. They’re the guys that finish the ride with a snap! And, we actually saw a couple of young Groms that put the others to shame!

Phew! Did you get all that? Totally.

Certainly one of the highlights of our stay here was a boat tour we took to the Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve. We enjoyed the tour with two new friends we met at the hotel. Katherine and Howard were from England and we got to know them over the past couple of days after having dinner together and chatting about our travels.

Separated from the mainland by quiet mangrove-laden waterways, the island is really just a thin, 22 kilometer-long strip of sand next to the ocean. The nature, however, is spectacular.

The mangrove forest, which houses up to 80 species of birds is also home to crocodiles. As well, there are lots of crabs, other crustaceans and of course, fish. (After our tour we saw and crossed over many fish nets).

As we slowly cruised along, the environment appeared primal. Mangroves suspended over brown, soupy water with alligator eyes just peeking over the surface here and there. Even our sense of smell was impacted by the huge amount of decaying life in and around the waterways. Our Captain, Miguel had an eagle-eye for anything that moved or was hiding in the forest.

Perfectly camouflaged birds stood quietly on top of huge termite nests while other birds like White Egrets with their yellow booties were obvious against the ultra-natural background. It was absolutely beautiful.

Miguel signalled for the driver to slow down… slow down… and then stop. We pulled up to a muddy bank with mangroves growing in and around it. Miguel could see it, and at first, we couldn’t. Once we learned how to separate the various species of flora and fauna living right in front of us it was obvious. Lying quietly in the water, there was an alligator a couple of meters from the boat.

The little alligator was pretty tranquillo – Miguel estimated he was a couple of meters long. It was a little like swimming with sharks… you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
It would be hard to top that sighting but we moved on to something even more wonderful.

The boat pulled up to a jungle dock and we clambered out. We walked about five minutes to the coastal side of the island and there we found the Palo de Oro Ecotourism Project, where a permanent sea turtle nursery has been developed.

Olive Ridley turtles have chosen this place to raise babies since the dawn of time and now humans are actively helping them! If you’re into it, you could rent a rustic cabin there and a restaurant is available as well!

We first saw the tiny creatures in a large plastic bin.

At the nursery, eggs are collected after being laid and they’re stored in sand, in bags for around 55 days until they hatch. This phase of the project is designed to protect the eggs from all the natural predators in the area – and it looks like it’s working. The little turtles in the bin were now ready to enter the ocean – with our help.

Lines were literally drawn in the sand and tourists were cautioned to stay behind them.

Hands were washed in the ocean first to avoid any contamination and people were given the opportunity to gently pick up a turtle and lay him/her on the sandy downhill slope to the ocean. Heather couldn’t wait – she was giddy with excitement as she picked up the tiny creature. I was there with the camera to catch the moment. Incredible.

Pretty soon there was a small battalion of Tiny Tim’s fluttering toward the wide open Pacific Ocean. Farewell!

Looking around at the crowd that gathered, it was clearly an emotional moment. The survival rate is slim. 1 in 1000 makes it.

The remainder of our time at Las Penitas has been devoted to watching more surfers and getting ready for our next leg of the adventure.

Tomorrow we’re off to Matagalpa – high up in the mountains of Nicaragua – easily 10 degrees cooler than this area. Fresh coffee brewing, clouds in the sky… in a way, it will be refreshing!

Immerso en la Cultura

Our Guest House Nancite host, John said it would be quiet overnight and he was right. Unlike our time in Granada, there were no bombas going off, no honking horns and no loud music in the distance. It has definitely contributed to good sleeps here in Leon.

Looking for Ruben Dario

Our explorations of the city continued but this time we were on the hunt for the cultural nuggets we’ve read about. One key player in this sphere is the revered Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. He initiated a literary movement called modernismo that blossomed at the end of the 19th century.

Recognized throughout all of Latin America, his extensive body of work is a cornerstone – his significant influence on 20th century Spanish literature is undisputed. Ruben’s ancestral home was in Leon and its now a museum in his honor – El Museo Ruben Dario – one of our morning’s destinations.

It was yet another look through the window of Nicaraguan history. Ruben’s final resting place in the Catedral Basilica de la Asuncion. Appropriate for such a highly regarded man.

To learn more about this fascinating fellow please visit this Wikipedia link:

Ruben Dario

A stunning art gallery

Very near the Ruben Dario museum is the famed Centre de Arte Fundacion – Ortiz Gurdian.

This incredible art gallery of galleries is not to be missed. We’ll let Heather tell the story:

Chris and I went to the Galleria a few days ago and spent close to 3 hours being overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of what we were seeing. It became clear to me that I would need a second trip to fully appreciate the scope of art on display.

Let me start with the first few pieces. 1490 Maestro Alemsa pieces of art mounted in a shutter-like frame. 1490, not reproductions, but the real thing. I have a background of museum work from my days at BCPM (BC Provincial Museum) and to realize that I was literally one inch away from these pieces was enough to blow me away. With only my sense of amazement was I able to keep my hands from touching. What a privilege to be so close to these works of art.

It continued on from there to pieces by Armando Lara (Honduras) 1999, a stunning piece called “La Virgen del Maiz”. Another, new to me favorite artiste was Alejandro Arostequi from Bluefields, Nicaragua. He had two pieces on display…..Cinquo figures Cosminas and Cuidades del Pacifico. These were huge , triptoglyphs, made with brilliant colors and… pop cans!

OK, OK, I’m sure by now you’ve probably skipped to the next paragraph but here’s my last comment. If you have any interest in art, modern or otherwise, you need to fly to Managua, taxi to Leon and spend a week in this incredible city.

Done…..back to Chris!

Well said Heather!

Church heaven

In the afternoon we attempted to visit some of the remaining churches on the tour. It’s said León has more colonial churches and cathedrals per capita than any other place in Nicaragua. And, it’s interesting how different they are. One thing was clear, they marked various districts within the city.

Heroes and Martyrs

One of our final stops on the tour was the Galeria Heroes y Martires. It literally puts faces to the people who gave their lives for independence during the revolution. Wall after wall of photo portraits of men and women chronologically arranged year by year.

Sandino:

It was another moving experience for us. So many normal looking people – they didn’t look like soldiers. So much sacrifice.

After we gazed into some of the many faces, we turned and were greeted by two older folks – custodians to the gallery. They also made a point of asking us where we were from. “Somos Canadienses” was again met with smiles. “Los Canadienses son nuestros amigos.” Within the flurry of Spanish that ensued, I detected the words, “Por la paz.” For peace. Wonderful to hear.

The House of Culture

The final stop was the Casa de Cultura. Actually a school, it offers a variety of classes including music and dance. Very cool to see! It also features various Nicaraguan artists paintings and photographs. One of the suggested artifacts is a painting of Ronald Regan.

A few more pics from the past days:

OK, let’s move on….

It’s been a wonderful stay… We’re leaving Leon tomorrow for Las Penitas Beach. It’s only 20 kilometers from here and very different than San Juan Del Sur apparently. We’ll see…

On to the Capital of the Revolution

Our shuttle ride from San Juan Del Sur was a fascinating look at the changing terrain between the low, flat lands north of San Jorge and the highlands between Jinotepe and the western side of Managua. It felt like a forbidden land – remote windswept plateaus with far-reaching vistas of the steppes down to the Pacific Ocean.

After descending down to the farmlands south of Leon, our ride was uneventful except for the continuing high winds buffeting our Toyota minibus.

The Political and Intellectual hub of Nicaragua

Leon was a welcome sight and fortunately still in daylight when we arrived. The driver had a number of different stops to make in the maze of one way streets and ours was last. The Blue Hat Hostel was our first planned overnight stay.

The hostel owners were from El Salvador. Lovely people. Comfy bed, shared bathroom and a long-ish walk to the center of town. We walked to the nearest restaurant – The Imbir.

They offered Sri Lankan food along with some Polish dishes… Quite the combination! It was a welcome change from typical Nicaraguan fare.

Next morning, the hosts offered us the makings of pancakes and bananas. Every person was responsible for cooking his or her own breakfast in the shared kitchen. No problem! With great coffee it was a good start for our first day in Leon.

Three Wheelin’

We made the decision to take a room in a small hotel much closer to the downtown core and some the main historical sites we’d be visiting. The Hotel Nancite had a room available so we started the trek with our bags. “Why don’t we take one of the three-wheeled bike taxis?” Heather said. “Good Idea!” They were everywhere so we flagged one down and had a fun game with the driver/rider trying to locate the hotel. Using Google maps was not his forte and we had no idea about the one-way streets. Poor guy, he was huffing and puffing when we finally stopped.

Oh, I should mention, it was about 9:45 and it was already 30 deg. C.

Exploring Leon

John was our welcoming host at the Hotel Nancite. He kindly let us keep our bags in the storage room and we took off (on foot this time) to start the first leg of the City Walk of Revolutionary & Cultural Leon in the Lonely Planet book. There’s LOTS of history here – the tour stops at 25 different, fascinating places of interest. From a Museo Entomologico with all the bugs, big and small you’ve ever wanted to know about to the world class Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Guardian.

Here are the highlights of our initial walkabouts…

Incredible Cathedral

The Basilica de la Ascuncion – the largest cathedral in Central America can be seen from many locations within Leon. It’s big. It’s said that the construction took more than 100 years using “indigenous labourers”.

Today, it was still undergoing the facelift started a few years ago. One can still enter the cathedral and… take the roof tour. We did that and WOW, what a view.

We spoke to a lovely young tour guide, Brenda, and she got us up to speed on some interesting facts about the region. Leon has 16 churches and… Not far away… 11 volcanoes, 3 of which are still active!

The cathedral and the other churches we visited were incredible examples of historical architecture and of course, the devout nature of the residents of Leon.

Welcomed by Sandinistas

After lunch our next stop was the Museo Historico del la Revolucion.

Just walking into the still emotionally charged building was a chilling experience. You could literally feel the anger, pride, rage, and grief after many years. We paid the 100 Cordoba entry fee (each) and we were greeted in the lobby by Juan – a VERY passionate Sandinista veteran. He was friendly but the very first question he asked me, looking straight into my eyes was… “de qué nacionalidad es usted?” “Somos Canadienses.” I replied. He appeared relieved. “No Americano… bueno.” He came closer and spoke quietly, “Americanos son malos.” We got the message. It made us feel somewhat on edge because we have LOTS of good friends that are American. But, we understood where the comment came from.

For almost an hour, we listened intently to the story of how the Sandinista movement started and how they rose up and fought against the Somoza dictatorship. Neither of us have ever heard anyone talk about a subject the way Juan did. He was extremely animated – quite often drawing his index finger across his throat to signal ‘death’. His emotional and hot-blooded descriptions of executions, women or children dying and his amigos being slain were born from images he’ll clearly never forget. And yes, Juan fought and was injured in the war – he rolled up his pant leg and showed us his leg that he nearly lost.

In the end, we had heartfelt empathy for Juan and the Nicaraguan people who to some degree, still struggle finding the path to a non-corrupt democracy. Depending on who you talk to and where they live, support for current President Daniel Ortega can be 50-50.

Legends and Traditions

Our last stop of the day was south of the cathedral at the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. (Musuem of Legends and Traditions). Across the street from the museum is the historic site of a bombed out church – maintained in it’s war-like setting.

The museum’s main building was a prison and it felt like it. After hearing Juan’s story, visiting a prison where torture and arduous incarceration took place added another dimension of human conflict to the city’s tour.

Inside the museum, there were various displays of exactly that – legends and traditions. One legend had to do with “La Gigantona”. It represents a Spanish woman for her height or upper class social status in colonial time. In addition she makes a mockery of Spanish women or the Spanish race.

Another was of “The Black Woman Camilla”. She was a native of the Atlantic Coast and she had moved to Leon. She was known for practicing Black Magic. With time she went mad and was hallucinating on the streets wearing the black dress she always wore as she was a widow. One of her goals was to kidnap children and sacrifice them. The iguana on her chest was a good luck charm to protect her on the streets…

We made a real effort to absorb all the stories and the images we were presented. After everything we had seen and heard today, it became sensory overload.

Let’s go have dinner, a glass of wine and try to de-program from the day.

OK… so on a lighter note… Leon definitely has a character that finds its way to your soul. The people here are very friendly and the children happy to smile and wave at us. And, after a couple of days here, we feel very proud to be Canadian.

Some final photos from the last couple of days…

Goodbye to Ome Tepetl (Two Mountains)

The morning we left Ometepe we had the good fortune to meet Ron and Debbie who, for over a decade have lived on the island. There are many stories of “expats” moving to other countries but none so well documented as in Debbie’s blog, “Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua”. If you missed it in our last blog, here’s the link:

https://wp.me/p1GBmZ-2L2

There are some incredible stories in there. In those few years, they’ve lived a lifetime that few could imagine. In spite of contracting tropical diseases, wrestling with boa constrictors, and dealing with the idiosyncrasies of Nicaraguan bureaucracy, they’ve persevered driven by their passion to help the people of Ometepe. Both professional educators, over the years they’ve contributed to the local school system in many ways and have seen the results of their work.

It turned out that we also have lots in common with these guys. They were keenly interested in our stories as well and our time with them went way too fast. One never knows, maybe we’ll see them again… We left the door open for that! Great to meet you both!

Rockin’ on the way to San Jorge

After saying goodbye to Ron and Debbie, we hung around the ferry’s waiting area for an hour or so and ended up with “the small boat” not the larger ferry. (Sorry, didn’t get a pic of our little boat)

It’s OK,” we simultaneously said to each other. “the lake is calm today.” Sure it was. As soon as the Little Ship That Could passed the spit off the west coast of the island, well… the fun began. There have always been the stories of how this crossing can be a rockin’ and rollin’ extravaganza. Today was the day and the high winds were the contributing factor. It started innocently and then I realized I had to hang on to the seat in order to stay put. And, when the boat rolled sideways, I wondered to myself, “was it going to stop?” What were you thinking.. of course it was! It actually became pretty hilarious when it was clear we weren’t going to be thrown in the water as long as we hung on.

One person that kept our minds off the boat capsizing was Johnathon, a super nice young guy who worked for an NGO from Canada. Well educated, he is involved in ALL SORTS of projects and is doing his best to help humanity and support his fellow Nicaraguans as they strive for a better life. Keep up the good work Johnathon!

By the time we arrived in San Jorge, we were happy to say goodbye to the crew. It was quite an arrival! There were deckhands throwing lines to the dock and shore men throwing their own lines back.

All the backpacks were quickly launched to the dock where the wide receivers caught them – hopefully. (Glad I didn’t bring that laptop) We all had a good laugh and I shook El Capitan’s hand. Too much fun!

Ronny the Cowboy

It was a short walk from the ferry to our refuge for the evening, the “Southern Nights Hotel”. The owner, Ronny Newberry met us in the driveway and immediately we could sense this guy had some stories to tell. A friendly, firm handshake was extended and we received a sincere welcome.

Ron is from the “Show Me” state of Missouri and all of a sudden it didn’t quite feel like we were in Nicaragua anymore. He showed us around his super clean hotel and beautifully managed gardens and we could just picture how much work this man must have done to arrive at this point.

He was a really interesting guy. I had never met anyone from Missouri and as we chatted we listened to a selection of each other’s life stories. Like many people who choose to move to another country to start a new life, Ron had given this chapter his best shot… and it showed.

Oh, and he was both a rodeo cowboy and a professional jockey in the US and Canada. (He was interested to hear about the Williams Lake Stampede in BC!)

Our stay at the Southern Nights was great. Ron’s daughter, Fawn and her husband Scott bent over backwards to make our visit enjoyable. Thanks guys!

The next morning, Ron got us a fair price with a local cab driver and after a great breakfast, (included) we were off to San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast. The driver was also a dentist in Rivas… just in case.

We reach the Pacific

San Juan as the locals call it has a long history. “Discovered” by the Spanish in the early 1500’s it became an important port due to it’s sheltered bay. And, many years later it was a terminal for gold seekers during the North American gold rush of the 1800’s.

Now, it’s a major tourist destination for Nicaragua and a home to many expats who have built hundreds of homes in the area.

Our stay was with a lovely family in their home offering an Airbnb suite with a private bathroom. Called “Dayanna’s House” it’s named after the host’s cutie pie daughter. Miriam and her husband Enrique are warm and welcoming hosts and we loved our stay there.

During our stay in San Juan we got to hang out on the beach and we also did a ton of walking. The city has a bit of a reputation for being a ‘party town’ but during our stay, we noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, there were lots of the shoeless, shirtless, free-spirited young Bohemians and plenty of mainstream young folks looking for a memorable ‘good time’… but everyone was pretty chilled. We only noticed a few guys that were strung out and unfortunately they were Nicaraguan.

Anyway, the location is stunning and if you visit, we highly recommend you take the walk up to the Mirador del Christo de las Misericordia statue – apparently the 2nd largest statue of Jesus in the world. The views are worth the walk – we saw the Guanacaste Peninsula, Costa Rica to the south!

Oh, and the food here is great. There is a Pali supermarket and tons of little tiendas downtown.

Finally, the sunsets are classic…

OK, so we’re off to Leon this afternoon. Yet another intriguing Nicaraguan city. We’ve been told by many travellers we’ll really enjoy the art museum here. Excellente!

Goodbye Ometepe

Our time on Ometepe is almost gone… anyone who visits here will soon be absorbed by the friendly, down to earth approach of the people and the raw natural beauty of the island. It IS a very special place.

Peaceful Balgue

We had a great time at the Urraca Loca hostel. For us, it was such a pleasant place to relax and just observe the everyday lives of those around us. Workers digging enormous volcanic rocks from the earth, vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, craftsmen working on buildings, mums and dads cycling the kids to school, farmers calling the pigs home, crews bringing in the cuadrado harvest, truckers hauling loads of bamboo, people raking their yards, bakers baking bread, ladies making tortillas in their shop, others minding their shops like farmacias and small corner variety tiendas, guys hanging around the car wash, kids walking home from school together and then… all those tourists like us – on their own adventure.

It was sad to say goodbye to Denis and Patricia, our hosts at Urraca Loca

Originally from Spain, they have progressively built up their impressive little hostel to the well run business we see today. Best wishes to them both as they continue to contribute to the local economy and the welfare of the local people.

Back to the Land

Our next stop on Ometepe was just down the road from Balgue. so close in fact that we walked the 2 kilometers with our backpacks (mochilas) – partly to prove it could be done!

Our destination was the El Zopilote hostel – part of a permaculture farm. We had great hopes for our stay here but it wasn’t to be. We had reserved a special little shack called the Armadillo Hut. When we arrived at the front desk, they had no record of the reservation and had no response when we showed them our confirmation number etc. We don’t want to go into great detail but… we left the next morning after a crappy night in alternate accommodation. The ONLY upside to our stay was the breathtaking view from the balcony of the building we stayed in. Worth the effort for sure…

Movin on…

We were at the bus stop on the main road at 7:00AM. We were back in familiar territory with the smiling, happy locals. The bus arrived, full. But not really… there is always room for more. With our bags stored in the back, we squeezed in and got very, very good at squeezing in – more and more. The only glitch came when someone at the back of the bus wanted to get off. But, it wasn’t really a glitch. It was a demonstration of people working together for a common goal… to get where they’re going. Doing a slow Gandy Dance, we all moved in unison to allow the person to slip through the human squeeze box. Even the lovely young man at the front entrance was part of the magic. Yes, he took your money, but he also helped everyone and anyone who needed assistance on and off the bus. And there were kids on the bus too. I saw one lady sitting in a seat hold children between her knees until they arrived at their destination.

Small change of plans…

We were originally headed for Altagracia but the bus stopped at the main change location for buses to Moyagalpa (where the ferries arrive). We thought, what the heck, let’s check out Moyagalpa… stay a couple of days and get to know the community a bit.

New Friends

We’re really looking forward to meeting two more very special people on Saturday. Debbie and Ron. They are expats now living in Nicaragua and they’ve been doing some very wonderful things with the local community. Check out their blog :
Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua

Back to the mainland today. Staying one night in San Jorge and then off to San Juan Del Sur on Sunday. The adventure continues!

Las Flores…

Before we move on down the road, we’ll share a good news story we learned about in Santo Domingo.

Good Neighbours

In 1993, two wonderful German folks Monika and Michael Hohn visited Ometepe for the first time. The Hohn’s were shocked at what they found. Their story is one of philanthropy – in a very big way. Over the next 15 years, they contributed $1,800,000.00 to various programs that brought healthcare and education to communities all over the island. General medicine, physiotherapy and gynecology were just some of the services that became available. Eyeglasses were distributed, wheelchairs made available, and kids went to school. Evidence of their work can be seen everywhere. The picture below shows the clinic in Santo Domingo.

Not Good Neighbours

Here’s another interesting photo from Santo Domingo. It lists all the people who defaulted on loans given to them via programs targeting development of the region. Morosos = defaulters.

Easy Riders

In between rain storms, we left Santo Domingo for our hostel in Balgue. A few days prior, we were kindly informed by our hosts that Sundays are not good days to be taking the bus on Ometepe. Only one bus a day runs to Balgue on Sundays and it’s late in the afternoon. Denis at the Urraca Loca Hostel offered to find us a ride. The best deal was taking a “moto” taxi. We jumped at the inexpensive estimate, not really knowing what a mototaxi was. We thought it might be one of those Tuk Tuk’s. That would be cool. Then we saw them… Two young guys showed up on their motorcycles with spare helmets. “Must be for us”, we said. You bet.

The ride to Balgue was great. There are many Grande Topes (speed bumps) to cross and we got used to the rodeo quickly. My bike was missing a footrest on the left side so to compensate I had a death grip on my rider’s trapezius. As we zoomed along, we noticed the change in the flora and fauna. Within 7 kilometers everything became far more lush and… populated con animales. Howler monkeys called down from the trees on the roadside and pigs ran in front of the moto. Lots of dogs too, all well behaved.

After making a right turn on a rocky side road and a left turn on a track shared with horses and other motorcycles, we arrived at our home for the next 3 days – Hostal Urraca Loca.

Just as we expected, the hostal was the host’s house accompanied by little outbuildings for us touristas. It was just incredible to be sitting under cover watching the warm rains come and go surrounded by lush gardens and the small fincas (farms) nearby.

The Rain Comes

We spent part of the day walking the main road in Balgue. The skies were still stormy and at one point we ducked under cover at a roadside stand while the torrents passed by. Like the west coast of BC, it doesn’t get so green and lush without some rain!

Evening dinner time rolled around and led us to a favorite local eatery called Café Campestre. It’s notoriously slow when busy but we managed to sneak in before the crowds appeared. Being Sunday, it was a special evening when they fired up the wood BBQ and offered many luscious items from the grill.

We felt very fortunate to be in such “exotic” surroundings enjoying the freshest green salad and grilled meats from the region. Wow.

After a restful night in our private room with a deluxe mosquito net, we awoke to a fresh morning with sunshine making its way past the fast moving cloud cover.

We were spoiled with a very tasty breakfast served by our hostel hosts and then we decided to just enjoy the day soaking up the vibe from this little oasis in el bosque. It is a workday here too… which really feels like home… work is ongoing to build a new guesthouse and shower. Good to see.
Hasta Luego!