Monday, March 12, 2012

My trip across Lago de Nicaragua, down Río San Juan and through the woods

I am currently in Bluefields, which is the Caribbean version of Nicaragua. The people here speak English, or rather, Creole, and Spanish, but are on the whole darker-skinned than their Pacific Coast counterparts. This is most likely from their indigenous, African descent, but the English and occasional blue eyes stem from this city´s former inhabitacion by Dutch, British, and French pirates. I am chilling out today and tomorrow here, before I part for total Caribbean immersion in the Corn Islands, just 70km off the coast of the country.

When I get there, I plan on acquiring my PADI Open Water certification, so I may legally (and safely) dive. There are two islands: Great Corn, and Little Corn, the latter of which has some really killer dive sites with plenty of reefs, dolphins, fish, and other marine life. I hope to encounter hammerheads, so I can check off a life goal of swimming with sharks far larger than myself. I also hope to round out my tan via equatorial burning, and sun-bleaching of my hair and beard. I really do not wish to shave my moustache to dive, but I may have to in order to create sufficient mask suction. NOOOOO!

Following this plan, I wish to head back to Managua via boat and bus, in an effort to catch another bus bound for either Estelí, a coffee-growing city in the highlands, or León, a much younger-populated and dilapidated version of Granada. In Estelí I´d like to stay on a farm or two and help with harvests. In León I hope to chill out at some volcanic sand beaches and climb one or two volcanoes, as part of my undying quest to see actual lava.

The most interesting man in the world.
The last few days have been an adventure. I had an epiphany in Granada, after meeting some great and very interesting people. One guy, a 41 year old bearded, long-haired hippie dude named Lesly, may just be the most interesting man in the world. At least that I´ve met thus far. He told me untold amounts of advice for travelling, stories of his crazy adventures, and gave me confidence in how to kick ass abroad. He spent one entire year living by himself in a frigid Patagonian forest, 2 hours by canoe from the nearest town. He then began his journey Northward through almost every country in South America, by hitchhiking, which is how he ended up in my hostel in Granada. He sleeps in abandoned buildings or on beaches at night, to save on accomodation and transportation. He only eats street food and cheap local eats, of course, to save money. He also speaks 5 languages and has done this in dozens of "dangerous" countries all around the world, including in Africa and Asia, mostly without problems. And for that I say, kudos dude. You´re a badass. He´s heading up through the U.S. and Canada in the next year and a half, since his paid leave from his prison guard job was recently reduced back in Belgium. Anyway, I met a pair of awesome Argentines from Córdoba, Lorenzo and Eric, who were travelling up through Mexico to attempt to work there for a little while. They also gave me some great advice and ideas for more Central American journies. I think next time I come down here, I´m going for 6 months. There are SO MANY cool things to partake in. I almost joined them on their bus to Guatemala City, to visit Tikal, and then decided I should go to Islas del Bahía, Honduras, to dive. That just recently fell through so I didn´t have to rush my trip this time around. I´ll go soon.

Good times with "El Último Maya" (a Guatemalan artisan), Lorenzo, "Culeado", and Eric. All great people.

 I left Granada last Thursday, by a 14-hour ferry to the South side of Lago de Nicaragua, the Great Lakes-sized lake that Henry Morgan himself travelled across to sack the city. The ferry stopped at the impressive Isla de Ometepe, with the volcanic cones looming over me as the sun set. I did my best to sleep on the hard seats of the ferry, but even with earplugs the TV blasted me.

I arrived at 6am into San Carlos, and had a killer breakfast. Gallo pinto (rice and beans fried together), a really interesting, slightly salty queso, huevos revueltados, and real café de Estelí, which was actually the best cup I´ve ever had. Maybe the setting made it, or maybe its organic, fair-traded arrival into my mouth. Or maybe it was the rain? Whatever it was, I enjoyed it´s rich, slightly sweet taste.

Delicious. Fried breadfruit, queso, huevos revueltados, gallo pinto, and damn good coffee.

East down the Rio San Juan, from atop La Fortaleza.

I took a panga (which is a really fast river boat) ride to El Castillo, which was a ride along some truly tropical looking landscape adorning both sides of Rio San Juan. El Castillo is so named for the massive Spanish fort constructed on its hill in 1675, in an attempt to thwart further pillaging of the Rio and of the once-wealthy shores of Granada. And their efforts mostly paid off. They stopped several future attacks, including one by Horatio Nelson, whose crew, after capturing the fort, mostly succumbed to a bout of malaria. Those remaining had the fun, macabre duty of dumping their crew´s corpses into the Rio San Juan, which contains the world´s only freshwater shark, the bull shark. And it had the fun duty of eating a bunch of corspes, which, to this day, it probably yearns for once again. Because of oversharking the Rio and the expansive Lago, the bull sharks numbers are much smaller, and thus a very rare sight, indeed. But they´re still there, along with crocodiles. So the hill with the fort protected the river, but so did two large rapids right next to the town, which were the bane of large ships trying to navigate on through.

El Castillo house.
"Camarones del río", or the largest, most delicious river shrimps ever. Taste like lobster.

La Fortaleza.
Needless to say, I explored La Fortaleza (that Spanish fortress), trying to put myself back in the time of the Spaniards when faced with an incoming onslaught of pirate ships. Also, the fort was used during the civil war in the 1980`s, with one night seeing 100 Sandinistas slaughtered within its confines. What bloodshed, and what crazy history these walls hold! Walking around the brick-paved streets of El Castillo was nice, but it´s not exactly a wealthy town. Seeing the colorful, stilted houses that have dodgy electricity and barely running water, not to to mention the terrible living conditions of the people was a humbling spectacle to behold. And you cannot help but feel `trapped´ in the city, even though you are not, with the humidity and one main road pushing you against the hill, with the river trapping you on the other side. It was a lazy few days, but much like the song, "Hotel California", I needed to get out, yet I could never leave.

I did take a tour of the nearby tropical rainforest, in Reserva Natural Indo-Maiz, Aguas Frescas chapter. This was replete with medicinal plants, 100-500 year old tropical trees (cedar, ceiba, and giant "almond" trees), bullet ants the size of a pen cap, poisonous dart frogs and what they call a "mountain chicken", but is actually a tiramook?¿ We followed that arduous, shin-deep mud walk with a brief dip into a side river, which definitely had sunbathing caimans nearby, and supposedly no bull sharks.

Shin-deep mud.

I took the 5:30am ferry by arriving to the dock one hour prior, at 4:30am, having been fooled by that damned Daylight Savings Time propganda. I had to dodge a swarm of bats and several large toads on my way to la muelle (dock), but settled in with a warm cup of coffee from a vendor who also set up shop shortly after my doG-forsaken hour of arrival. The fast boat back to San Carlos was less-than-ideal temperature wise, and super windy. I laughed at all the white egrets so humorously posed amongst the shore bushes. Like, every 10 feet there would be one, sitting still and looking intently at us as we flew past. When I got back in San Carlos, I saw a ton of children eeking out a living by shining shoes. I was harassed by so many that eventually I gave in and "hired" one to polish each of my shows, for a lousy 50 cents. They were only 10 and 12, but looked half that through malnutrition. I felt really bad for them, but I do know that you should never just give money to someone. Make them work for it, so they are taught an important lesson, and not to make an industry out of begging and goodwill.

 I took a 6 hour bus to get to El Rama yesterday, which must have honked its horn at every damned person between here and there, like one thousand separate incidents. They also stopped maybe 50 or more times to pick people up and drop people off and slow down for cows in the road and barely avoid pedestrians, etc. I was relieved to arrive in El Rama, but immediately took the next panga out here to Bluefields, which took 2 hours and was much better-received. So here I am and there I´ll go. This is definitely all for now, and more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to following your journey and reading about your personal encounters.