Monthly Archives: November 2012

Journey Through Latin America (Part 10)

 

Arriving in Granada, Nicaragua was very easy from Masaya.  It cost a few cents by chicken bus and I arrived in less than an hour.  I could tell I was near the central plaza when I saw the colonial buildings and I signalled the bus-driver to stop by banging on the ceiling of the bus.  Luckily, I turned out to be only four blocks or so from the hostal Oasis, so I didn’t have to hire a taxi.  When I entered Hostal Oasis I had a tremendous case of deja-vu, the layout was almost exactly like Lazybones in Leon.  The reception, garden, pool, dorms, common areas all were almost identical.  Then when I entered my room I encountered two fellows I had met at Lazybones! is that funny or what?  I’m beginning to get used to this sort of thing along the “gringo trail.”

At first glance I liked Granada, there’s a lot to like: colonial buildings, cool breeze from the nearby lake, and everything designed with the tourist in mind.  Therein lies the rub.  Because of so many tourists the prices are inflated in restaurants, and anywhere you go you are accosted by salesmen, taxistas, moneychangers, tour guides or just plain beggars.

Hostal Oasis was an oasis from the chaos outside, and I enjoyed cooking my own dinners in the kitchen and meeting lots of travellers from all over the world: Israel, Austria, Germany , and of course Canada.  I couldn’t imagine what to do with my time outside of the hostal, and though I enjoyed playing guitar and using the free internet, I decided it was time for San Juan Del Sur.

I took a short, cheap bus ride to Rivas, then another to San Juan.  I realized immediately why everyone adores San Juan del Sur:  the streets are clean, the air is cool, and it is small and well arranged around the beach, plaza, and market–all just a few blocks from one another.

Just as I stepped off the bus I spotted a young lady wearing a Surfing Donkey T-shirt, the hostal I was looking for.  Giselle from Argentina guided me three blocks to the hostal, which was $7 a night for a dorm with breakfast and kitchen facilities, and a cold swimming pool.  I think I´ll be staying here a few days.

A funny thing, or two, happened today:  just after having lunch at a comedor in the market I bumped into Matt, who was one of the guys I had met in Leon AND Granada, so he holds the record for the most times I’ve met someone on my trip by accident.  Then a few minutes later I was talking to Elena from Italy who promotes Surfing Donkey as well as her macrame bracelets, when I spied another familiar face– Do from Israel, whom I had met way back at Casa Verde in Santa Ana, El Salvador.  He told me he had just put Megan on the bus, so I just had time to wave hello/goodbye to her.  Like I said, I’m getting used to this sort of thing on the gringo trail.

 

 

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 9)

This is the lagoon at the Selva Negra Coffee Plantation and ecotourist attraction.  The Selva Negra is located high in the mountains north of Matagalpa, Nicaragua.  To arrive here was interesting.  I left Leon at 6:30 AM, when the shuttle was full, and we were only about half an hour outside of Leon when we were confronted with a traffic blockage caused by protesters.  Apparently the community had made an agreement with an electric company who failed to hold up to their bargain.  We backed the microbus up to a shady area and waited some 3 hours until the strike-breaking police force, mostly women, came and freed the highway for traffic.  As we passed through the rock-laden roadway we could still smell tear gas.  In the two months I’ve been travelling in Central America this is the first incident remotely dangerous I’ve experienced, and I actually enjoyed myself the whole time chatting with two lovely pre-med students anxious to get home to Matagalpa for the weekend.

Matagalpa is a pretty town in the cool mountains, coffee country, although it is plenty warm when the sun is shining.  I saw nothing especially interesting to photograph, so the following photos are mostly of the Selva Negra.  The owner named the plantation after the Black Forest of his native Germany, and the architecture is suitably European, like the Chapel above.

Many of the plants are familiar, as they have been exported to the North and beyond for use as house and patio plants.  The wild versions tend to grow much larger than I have ever seen, however.  These elephant ears for example:

 

In the jungle, walking the observation trails, I heard birds more often than glimpsing them.  I saw a large rodent that looked like a little capybara, and smelled, heard, and then saw a small troop of spider monkeys, though they were too far away in the trees to get a good photo.  I also heard howler monkeys occasionally off in the distance.  Mostly I enjoyed the peaceful solitude of this magical nature preserve.  I ate a late breakfast on the grounds and enjoyed some delicious locally grown coffee.

The next day I took a short bus ride to Masaya, which is half way from Managua to Granada, known for its arts and crafts and cultural displays.  I arrived on Sunday, so I saw some native dancing going on to the beat of a marimba band.

 

I stayed in an incredibly cheap hotel for $4 a night, but I had a difficult time finding  a good place to have dinner.  In the morning , however, I had a wonderful pastry breakfast for under $2.  On the whole, Masaya had little to keep me there, so I took the short bus ride for 5o cents to Granada.  Here are some more pics from Masaya:

 

 


Journey Through Latin America (Part 8)

It took slightly less than 12 hours to travel from Alegria, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua.  I woke up at five AM so I could do some rudimentary Chi Gong exercises before catching the 6 AM chicken bus to Santiago de Maria, then another bus to San Miguel, then another still to El Amatillo at the border with Honduras.  Two enthusiastic young men immediately helped me into  tricyclo taxi and pushed me through both immigration posts and left me at the shuttle for Nicaragua.  This was a ¨”combi” that had to fill all 12 seats before we left.  The highway in Honduras was full of potholes, but the worst part was arriving at the Nicaraguan border where more enthusiastic men wanted to help me, though this time I was not being pushed around as easily.  The immigration post in Nicaragua was the worst I´ve yet seen: unorganized, took 30 minutes, half of which for the official to get change for my $20, the fee was $12.

I had a leisurely lunch at the bus stop and took another shuttle to Chinandega, then yet another to Leon, where I finally got a cheap taxi, just $1 to my hostel.  I was so glad Lazybones had a swimming pool.  I was exhausted.

 

Leon is an interesting place.  I like it, so its difficult to describe accurately without seeming derogatory.  Its dirty, yes, but by now I´ve come to the conclusion that garbage exists whether it is hidden or not, so I´m not offended.  Its old and lots of buildings are falling apart.  It is lively and offers a lot for the wanderer to see.  I feel like it is Antigua´s opposite in some ways, dark and seedy, and not entirely tourist minded.  It took me a while to get some shots of the ubiquitous horse and cart.

 

I can´t say that Nicaragua is significantly cheaper than El Salvador, but I have found a couple of places where I can eat well for under $2.  One is Pelibuey (Nicaraguan for Lamb) where it is hot and sweaty, like most of Leon, and the racket next door is from a gym.  Well, the racket is mostly from the street, its very noisy in Leon.  The other good spot is a French bakery called Pan y Paz where I took this photo (the juice is guayaba and the croissant chocolate) first class quality.

I´ve been here a few days, mostly just to recover from that horrendous day of travelling.  I lucked out and caught a Cuban Trova act at La Olla Quemada,  Fulancito y Tal, really world-class performance.  I finally felt like I was in the Leon of my imagination.  Alas, I did not have my camera.


Journey Through Latin America (Part 7)

 

This is Alegria, Usulutan, El Salvador which is a small town perched high up the side of a volcano.  I arrived by bus from Playa San Diego via Comalapa, Usulutan, and Santiago de Maria.  I found the hostel I was looking for right on the main square where the bus let me off, but it was a little pricey, so I crossed the plaza to Hotel Las Palmas, which gave me a private room with bath for $10 a night.

 

It is pleasantly cool in Alegria and I enjoyed walking about and taking photos of the tremendous view.  I had to include one featuring the numerous coffee plants growing everywhere.  I don´t usually drink coffee, but the restaurant at breakfast offered locally grown coffee and … nothing else.  It was quite good.

 

 

 

After a filling breakfast including gallo pinto, delicious fried plantains, and salty eggs with fresh rolls, I set off by foot to climb the volcano.  This is why I came to Alegria, you can visit the volcano with just a 45 minute walk from your hotel. It was a beautiful walk on a cobblestoned road winding through a forest full of coffee and other tropical food plants.  The gatekeeper to Laguna Alegria charged me 25 cents (una cora) and I got a shot of his animal pal.

 

 

The lake in the middle of the volcano´s crater is a beautiful bright green due to the high sulphur content.  Because of this the water is considered to have curative powers, which may be why some equestrians brought their steeds here to give them a swim.  It took me some time, but I finally found one smoking fumarole to give evidence of the volcanos active state.  I assume there are other days when the area is more impressive in that regard.

 

 


Journey Through Latin America (Part 6)

From Santa Ana, El Salvador I took a short bus ride to Santa Tecla (Nuevo San Salvador) to switch to a bus for La Libertad.  I was travelling with Ronnie from Australia who I met at Casa Verde, and we both wanted to go to El Tunco, the recommended spot for surfing.  We caught another chicken bus for El Tunco and a couple of hopeful local youths guided us to the gate of Hostal La Sombra (above).  The whole trip from Santa Ana cost less than $4.  The hostal was $8 a nite.

It was great to just walk from the hostal right to the beach and swim in an amazingly warm Pacific Ocean.  The beach is indeed perfect for surfing, and I was somewhat tempted to rent a board for $5 a day.  The town wasn´t really my style, however.  It is very small and compact, two main streets lined by hotels, restaurants, and various tourist based businesses, all with their walls connected in such a way that it resembles a rat maze for surfers.  Its probably easy to close off and keep it secure, but I felt a little claustrophobic.

I enjoyed walking around and taking photos, but I couldn´t find an economical place to eat, and I really was looking forward to fresh fish, so I splurged on a $7 plate with a huge whole fish, something like a snapper.  That evening I enjoyed talking to folks from different countries, only one of which was a bonafied surfer, though just about everyone in town is there to surf.  Ronnie scheduled a $10 surf lesson the next day.

After just one night at El Tunco I grabbed a chicken bus to Libertad, where I switched to another bus to Playa San Diego.  The drive is just 10 minutes, but it took almost an hour waiting for the bus and then the bus stops several times, etc.  I was pretty tired when I got off the bus where the driver told me, then heaved on my backpack and guitar to walk three long blocks to Hostal El Roble.

I knew I was in the right place as soon as I glimpsed the amazingly spacious, tropically landscaped grounds.  Soon I recognized Lozz, a cute Canadian girl I had met at Casa Verde.  She was the one who recommended this hostel, where she will be working for the next four months or so.  Thats what she does: looks and listens around for hostels that would like to trade free room and board for her to work there.  It sounds like a great way to stretch your travel out indefinitely.  Here is a picture of Dee Jay, who does the same thing and whose job Lozz is taking over:

I really enjoyed staying at El Roble for four days, the camaraderie of the guests is outstanding and Darrin, the Brit who owns the place is a great host.  I enjoyed the company of Lozz and DJ and then a Czech couple whom I met at Casa Verde (it really is a small country).  George is a meteorite hunter (!) and I hope to track them down the next time I´m in Tucson for the annual Gem Show which they always attend.  Among others I also enjoyed the company of a retired couple from Scotland who were such experienced travellers that they had all their necessities in two small backpacks.  Inspiring.

The only drawback of San Diego is the beach.  The waves crash directly onto the beach, so swimming is difficult and the numerous riptides actually make it dangerous.  You would have to be crazy to try to surf there.  I enjoyed cooking fresh seafood each night I was there, though I had to take a long bus ride (only 4 km) to the pier at La Libertad to make my choices:  one whole flounder $1, half a pound of large shrimp $2, large red snapper filet $3.  Yes!

Down this road would come a pastry salesman twice a day selling great treats for a quarter (cora) each.  You could tell he was coming by the bike horn he tooted.  I really enjoyed my stay at El Roble, but the mosquitos enjoyed my flesh too much and I still have  a long way to go, so I left for Alegria, where I am happily typing right now.  But alas my time is up, so todays story will have to wait for tomorrow.


Journey Through Latin America (Part 5)

Antigua Guatemala was really great.  The hostal I stayed at for a week happened to be Salsa Central, where four different dance instructors gave group and private lessons.  As a result I made dozens of friends, listened to great music, and really felt at home.  Friday night I took my Guiro to Las Palmas and talked the owner and band into letting me play with them, and it was great fun.  There were a few extended songs of over 15 minutes that really pushed me to the limit, then after the band stopped I got to dance a few songs with some beautiful ladies I had met.  There were actually more friends there than if I had gone out to a club in my home town of Tucson Arizona.

Sunday I took a shuttle to Guatemala City where I got a “first class” bus to San Salvador.  I met a Canadian couple, Eric and Heather, at the bus station and it turned out we were headed to the same hostal( #1 on hostelworld.com) .  The ride to El Salvador was very short and smooth, and when we got to the border there was no immigration post per se, just some military guys who checked our luggage and passports and asked alot of questions.  The ride to San Salvador was pleasant and when we arrived a local lady overheard me ask about taxis and made a call to a Christian Taxi service for us.  Eric and Heather and I shared a taxi to the hostal and then shared dorm room as well.  The Hostal Cumbres del Volcan is one of the cleanest and most civilized I’d seen, and only $8 a night.  The downside was that it was in a residential area and there wasn’t any place even to buy a soda within five blocks.  I didn’t bother taking any photos because it was just an urban center that could have been anywhere on the planet.  I spent Monday promoting my music show at a number of five-star hotels and restaurants,  I have a solo act as Luis Sabor, singing and playing guitar.   I didn’t expect any response right away, so I left for Santa Ana, which is actually back North a couple of hours.  This is a town more to my liking and I found a great Hostal Casa Verde just blocks from the center of town.

This is really an awesome hostel, just look at the view from the rooftop terrace here.  It has free internet I’m using at the moment, clean everything, and one of the best kitchens you could imagine. The owner Carlos is very friendly and helpful, has designed this place in a very intelligent manner.  When he found out what I was doing he immediately called up a nearby cafe and I played there Wednesday night, and I’m going to play there again Friday.   The interesting contrast I am seeing between Guatemala and El Salvador is that in Guatemala, Xela and Antigua at least, the rooms were really cheap but it was a challenge finding a cheap meal.  Here its in reverse: rooms are twice as much ($9!) but cheap food is everywhere.  It will be easy to keep below my daily budget of $20 here, so maybe I can make up for my expenses in Mexico.

The weather is really my style, WARM, but with a constant breeze.  As long as you stay in the shade its very comfortable.  No need to use a towel after a shower, and of course there are no blankets, just thick sheets.  The hostal here is just blocks from the market, but the whole center of town is just one big bustling entrepreneurial zone.  Just about anything is offered in any of  dozens of shops of various sizes, including folks with just a basket or cart.  Tomorrow I plan to make a video of a walk through the market which should be very entertaining.  One thing different about El Salvador markets from other places I’ve seen is the abundance of pharmacy outlets everywhere, sometimes right next to a food stall in the market.  Perhaps there are no licenses required to sell pharmaceuticals because  I’ve even seen guys selling packaged medicine on the sidewalk.

In all, Santa Ana seems to be a very pleasant place just to kick back for a few days, which is just what I plan to do.


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