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Archive for February, 2010

Trip extension

I am staying down here another five days.  I now return Saturday March 13th.

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I figured out how to get the first post up (see below), still working on photos…

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Volcan Maderas

Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua made up of two volcanoes – Maderas and Concepcion.  Maderas (1400m) has been long dormant and is thought to be extinct.  Concepcion (1600m) is still active and constantly smoking.  I was told by my hotel that I would only be allowed to go up to 1000m on Concepcion, so I decided to hike Maderas.  Also you don´t get to see any lava on Concepcion anyway (mental note to add Guatemala to travel list).

When you ask how long the Maderas hike is, they say it takes 6 hours.  No distance.  And that it´s muddy.  I was hiking with three Americans with whom I had eaten dinner the night before, two Swedish girls, a Mexican/Argentinian couple, a British guy and two German middle-aged women.  The hike starts on a dirt road, goes through some farmland, some coffee plantations, some fields, dry forest as the ascent begins and then cloudforest above 500m or so.  As far as I can tell, cloudforest just means that it´s foggy and there is a lot of mud.  So you can´t see anything once you get high up and your feet make squishing noises every step.  “What a great idea to do this hike” I am thinking.

They don´t tell you how grueling the hike is.  I did it on Tuesday and my calves are still sore today (Saturday).  The two American girls only made it about 1/4 of the way up to where the forest begins.  The American guy told me that one of the girls hasn´t done any physical activity in four years and the other one was nicknamed ¨La Gordita¨by our guide.  He only referred to her as ¨La Gordita¨all day.  It roughly translates to ¨little fattie¨so we all thought it was pretty hilarious.  She took it in good humor and has told the story numerous times to other travellers.  Everyone has the same reaction – ¨that´s one of my favorite things at Taco Bell¨.

The hikers really bonded on the way up.  When we stopped to rest we would share fruit and water, trade travel stories, and crack jokes about mud or dying.  As the hike got steeper and muddier my hiking group slowly disintegrated, with the Mexican dude, me and one of the Swedish girls making record time.  When we passed other groups we told them not to feel bad, as we were the fastest group to ever hike Volcan Maderas.  We were motoring up that volcano, which was challenging towards the top because you often had to use vines and roots on the sides of the path to pull yourself up the path.

We finally get to the top of the cone where there is a Nicaraguan flag and lots of fog.  Then it´s a steep descent down into the crater, where supposedly a mud pond awaits us.  Inside the crater was other-worldly.  You are (obviously) surrounded by the crater of the volcano, which is completely forested.  You can´t even see the path back from farther than ten feet away.  The air is clear, but you can see clouds whipping by overhead, being pulled down a bit into the crater by the rim.  Ocasionally a small spot would open in the clouds and rays of sunshine would pour down.  The mud pond was much bigger than I expected and probably took up half the crater.  You can swim in it but we heard it is so muddy that an American tourist had to be rescued by her tour guide when she got stuck.  He had to fashion a rope out of his pants.  My guide was wearing shorts so I didn´t go in.

At the top we had lunch.  Before we started the hike, La Gordita had offered to carry my lunch up in her backpack.  About halfway up a guide gave me the lunch and said she wasn´t going to make it to the top.  Except my lunch was missing a ham sandwich.  How could I have fallen for that?  It was so obvious in retrospect.

On the way down  I was hiking with one of the Swedish girls who was hilariously paranoid that we were going the wrong direction, or that a snake was around the corner, or that the howler monkeys were actually pumas (in her defense they should definitely be called “growler monkeys” as that´s much closer to the sound they make).  Our guide told us about two hikers – an American and a Brit – who had died a few years ago by going down the wrong path on the way down and falling off a cliff.  It reminded me of when I almost died in the Patagonia region of Argentina by going down a mountain the wrong way and almost falling off a cliff.  Anyway I keep saying things like “yeah this seems more like we´re hiking down a creek than a path” and “woah look at the size of that spider” so it was a fun hike down.

I stopped to rest at some benches just where the forest ends, looked at Volcan Concepcion and the island and watched some neon orange butterflies flutter around.  Stunning view, and nice to sit in the sun.  Really wishing I had some more water with me.  The Swedish girl mysteriously stopped sharing her water with me.

As we proceeded further down the volcano we came upon a fork in the path.  I did not remember it at all, but confidently proclaimed that the left path was correct and went charging off.  Of course it dead ends into a barb wire fence.  We end up just squeezing through.  I look back and realize that there is a little contraption that lets you move part of the barbed wire fence aside.  Dumb as a farm animal – great.  We asked a farmer for directions and got back to the bus just fine.  I immediately consumed a huge bottle of water, a Gatorade and a Coke while we pledged to celebrate our survival by drinking as much rum as possible that night.

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Days 3, 4 and 5

Apparently my post from my phone about the first two days did not make it onto the blog.  I will try to upload it when I find wifi again.

Day 3 (Sat) – in the morning I did a canopy tour, which means I went on a series of zip lines in the forest.  It was pretty fun.  My favorite parts were 1) watching the guy ahead of me hold onto every tree, head bowed (and I assume praying) because he was scared of heights and 2) at the end you have to rappel down and I said I wanted to go “muy rapido” and they let me free fall most of the way down.

Saturday was the last day of the poetry festival in Granada.  In the evening a few thousand people were sitting in chairs in the central square listening to poetry being read.  There was also a panel of what may have been judges or maybe just VIP poetry fans.  Afterwards there was a band and in general the whole city was a big party.  I am completely incapable of moving my hips the way Nicaraguan men do, so no one was really interested in dancing with me.  Don’t worry, I didn’t let that stop me from dancing.

Day 4 (Sunday) – 7:30am rolls around and I am snoring away.  Hotel owner has to bang on the door yelling to get me out of bed.  My kayak tour guide is outside waiting for me.   Ugggghhhhhh, ok.  We kayaked through some volcanic isletas in Lake Nicaragua.  It was more like an episode of Cribs than Planet Earth.  Many of the islands have houses on them and the rest appear to be for sale.  One island is big enough for at least 4-5 hammocks and costs $100,000.  Let me know if anyone wants to go halvesies on Hammock Island.  We saw some monkeys on Monkey Island.  I love monkeys, but it was a little less cool when we found out the 4 monkeys on the island had been kidnapped from the mainland and put on the island for tourists.  While we were there 3 different boats full of fat Americans and Europeans came by.  We splashed them with our paddles.

In the afternoon I went down to catch a bus to Rivas on the way to Ometepe, which is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  I went to where the bus was supposed to be and asked when it would get there.  They told me they thought the last one had already left, but if there was going to be another one it would pick up around the corner.  I started walking that direction and a school bus pulls out, taking a left onto my street (so going away from me).  This dude running in the road next to the bus points to me and yells “Rivas?” and I say “Si, Rivas” and he points to the bus and says “Vamanos.”  The bus isn’t stopping though.  I literally had to run and jump on the bus.  After a while the dude comes over and tells me I have to change buses.  I get off at a fork in the road, he tells me to go to the other side.  Hmmm.  I really have no idea where I am. I am not in a town or anything.  I am just on the side of the road.  After a few minutes a guy walks by and I ask him if this is where I wait for the bus to Rivas.  He points down the road and says something.  I think he looks trustworthy so I follow the direction he pointed.  Thank god.  The bus picked up about 200 yards from where I was standing.  I have to run to get there, same story.  Bus doesn’t really stop for me and I have to sprint 50 yards and jump on.  I never would have made it from 200 yards.

On this school bus there’s a little kid.  He gives this long speech.  Something to the effect of he has a very hard life and someone in his family is sick.  He is a cute little kid and I feel sorry for him.  Then he proceeds to start singing.  Three songs.  The kid can’t sing at all.  No tune, no rhythym, but good volume.  After he’s finished I give him all the coins in my pocket hoping if he earns enough money he won’t feel inclined to sing more.

I get to the ferry outside Rivas.  It takes an hour to get to Ometepe.  The island is surreal – two huge volcanic cones connected by an isthmus.  There are a few towns, but mostly it’s just forest and beaches.  From the island you can’t see the other shore.  The water is really warm, probably 70 degrees.  It’s odd to see the horses drinking out of it.  Big watering hole.

Day 5 (Monday) – I went to see some petroglyphs, one of which depicts what is thought to be an alien visiting earth (I will post the picture when I figure out how).  These stone carvings are over 1000 years old.  So I guess the Scientologists are right.  I spent the rest of the day at a natural spring with cool water called Ojo de Agua (eye of water).  I asked this guy there where the water came from.  He just goes “It’s an eye.  An eye of water.”  Thanks for clearing that up for me.  The other tourists and I debated if it was really a spring or was pumped in from somewhere.  Not that we really cared, it was great.  Apparently I look ten years younger after an hour in the spring.  Yeah, I more look like a beet after being out in the sun for an hour with no sunscreen.

The seafood on Ometepe is unbelievable.  I eat fish or lobster or both at each meal.

At sunset I walked out into the water.  It stays very shallow close to shore, even a hundred yards out it was only to me knees.  The water is incredibly calm tonight as the wind has died down.  The forested volcanos above the smooth lake create one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.  I have decided to stay another day and hike to the top of one of the volcanoes tomorrow morning.

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Days one and two

The first step off the plane the air smells different. Tropical.

On the 45 minute drive to Granada I meet a man running a non profit in Nicaragua. He loves the country and is doing various exciting things eg working with “the Celine Dion of Nicaragua” to do a Spanish remake of the mamas and the papas song that goes “if you’re going to San Francisco. ..” Rights from universal negotiated. Apparently there is a huge Nicaraguan population in San Francisco. He also recommends a book, an autobiography of a nymphoniac civil war double agent, to understand the country better. Right on.

I get to La Islita. Charming. Way above expectations. One of the owners suggests that I go to a party for poets. OK.

Get to the party.

Security Guy: Spanish Spanish Spanish
Me: huh
SG: Es un poeta?
Me: No (try to enter party, but he stops me)
Random dude: Spanish Spanish Spanish
Me: no soy un poeta. (Look of confusion)
Proprietor: are you a poet?
No
Why are you here?
My friend told me I could come.
Who is your friend?
He runs a hotel here.
OK whatever, come on in.

I didn’t even need to know Travis. Met some poets, filmmakers and danced unintentionally. I was the only non poet/ filmmaker. Unique and special flower.

Leave the party. I am inspired to write a poem on the streets of Granada.

Day two. Sleep way later than intended (hey austin). See the sights in Granada including some ancient local stone carvings (see pictures). Learn tour options. Meet some nice locals. For dinner I eat one of the top five steaks in my life for $11. This country is supposed to be famous for seafood. I will be eating steak for lunch and dinner while in Granada.

My hotel is hosting an open mic for poetry, singing and interpretive dancing. Apparently everyone in Nicaragua is a poet unless proven otherwise.

Here is the poem I read:

A young boy races to find a small flier
Cuatro Cordobas? No, cinco Cordobas
Swiped by the wind, the flier flies from his hand
And all watching laugh as he races again
The grinning boy winks as he trades the found note
Strange the man needs it as he’s not a poet

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La Islita Boutique Hotel
* Granada, Nicaragua
* 505-2552-7473 (Nicaragua) * (305) 759-5278 (direct line in USA)

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Rough Itinerary

Granada – old colonial city, 6th annual poetry festival, 2 nights

Ometepe – volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua, kayaking, 1 night

San Juan del Sur – surfing, 2 nights

San Juan River – rain forest tour by boat, 4 nights

Corn Islands – Caribbean scuba diving, 4 nights

Leon – cultural heart of Nicaragua surrounded by a volcano range, 3 nights

Managua – capital city, 1 night

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