Oil on Canvas 30″ x 40″
It was hot and sweaty in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where I had to take one of these tricycle taxis from the bus station to the Mexican border. It was much cheaper to walk across the bridge then to pay $4 to be tricycled across. Guatemalan and Mexican immigration was smooth enough, although a slow and sweaty process. From there I took a shuttle to Tapachula, where I had to wait a couple of hours for the bus to Arriaga. It gave me time to relax and have some good Mexican tacos. It seems to me that Mexican tortillas are the best.
I enjoyed a night and a day in Arriaga, Mexico where I had stayed before, at the Hotel Chiapas, although they had raised their rates somewhat since I was here in October. I had more great Mexican street tacos, then in the morning an incredible breakfast buffet for $4 that set me up through lunch. I had to wait all day and into the night for my bus to leave for Oaxaca at 9PM. It was nice to be in a real bus station rather than just a spot on the sidewalk.
I slept on the bus all night and arrived in Oaxaca around 5AM, so the Hostel Paulina, where I had stayed in October, only charged me for the following night. Breakfast was included, and the staff recognized me and requested a musical performance. I gave them a Promo CD of Luis Sabor and the next morning they were playing it for the breakfast service.
I really like Oaxaca, Mexico. It is one of the few large state capital cities that still retain a relaxed atmosphere, despite being very busy and offering a great deal of opportunities for shopping and entertainment. It is similar to Leon, Nicaragua in this regard. I enjoyed visiting a large mercado, where I tried on a sombrero, since I had accidentally left my leather hat on a bus in Escuintla.
I also tried a few of these “chapulines”: chili-fried crickets, at the insistence of my friend Porfirio, whom I had met back in October when I was busking in the Plaza. Porfirio and I talked a great deal and he had an interesting story to tell. Having grown up on the streets, he had just spent his first entire year dependence-free, after being addicted to heroin for six years. It was inspiring to hear how he had pulled himself out of the gutter, literally, with the help of God, to escape the living hell he had endured. He was incredibly optimistic, and I have felt compelled to pray for him, as his trials certainly cannot be over.
After just two days in Oaxaca, I was ready to board another bus for a long trip to Puebla. The bus stations were starting to resemble airports now, and the buses were more comfortable, including bathrooms and movies, although much more expensive than in other countries.
Okay, I’m now well on my way back home to Arizona. I flew from Lima, Peru to San Jose, Costa Rica which cost a bit more than I had planned. When I arrived at the ticket counter in Lima the young lady informed me that Costa Rica would not allow me to enter the country after being in Peru without a yellow fever vaccination, ten days prior to entering Costa Rica. How could I do that? I was not allowed to switch my flight to another country, and staying in Lima for another 10 days would cost hundreds of dollars. As it turned out, the airline is accustomed to the situation and set me up with a valid vaccination document pre-dated by 15 days from a nearby hospital, and I just had to pay $210 (to tip everyone involved) Well it sucked, but everything went smoothly after that , and I was so happy to land in Costa Rica. I immediately felt my spirits rise as I stepped out into the relatively fresh air of Alajuela, and I enjoyed a good night at the nearby Hostel Maleku, where I had stayed before.
The next morning I took out just a little bit more colones from the ATM than I had caluculated to get me to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. The bus ride was a bit long, but not uncomfortable, and we stopped halfway to Liberia for a break, which has been rare on my trip. In Liberia I met two Swedish girls who were also on the way to San Juan del Sur, so we went through customs together, lucky for them, for they had no dollars, and Nicaragua doesn’t accept anything else to enter the country. I lent them the $24 they needed, then we shared a taxi to San Juan, and they paid me back when we arrived at the Surfing Donkey. It was great to see friendly faces, and I was amazed at how many of the guys had stayed on to become employees there.
I rested at San Juan del Sur just a couple of days, and it was great to hit the beach and swim in the pool and eat Nicaraguan food. The second and last night I was there, the Surfing Donkey folks decided to try out a new drinking game concept: 1 shot of rum every 5 minutes until you pass out or vomit. Sounds fun huh? right, well I was one of a number of observers and eventually caregivers to the four participants. It was pretty funny the first hour, then it got a little scary. Three folks were sick or passed out within 1 1/2 hours, and the winner, Dan the Bear that Grills, was still steady.
I woke up early the next morning, did a short Qi Gong workout, then heaved my backpack on, picked up my guitar, and walked a few blocks to catch the direct bus to Managua. When I reached Managua I had to take a taxi across town to the station for buses to Leon, but it all went smoothly and a couple of hours later I was paying another taxista in Leon just $1 to take me to Lazybones Hostel, where I had spent a week back in November. This time in Leon I decided to make an effort to photograph people, which I am rather uncomfortable doing. Most of the time people don’ t like to be photographed by strangers, so some of the photos I just shot from the hip so to speak ( more like from the chest.)
Besides the swimming pool at Lazybones, I had been looking forward to two things in Leon: Asado Pelibuey (bbq lamb) and some excellent French pastries. Saturday night they ran out of pelibuey, so I had to eat chicken, but it was awesome with the gallo pinto, tortilla, slaw and fried plantain. Then Sunday morning the French bakery was closed, but I bought some delicious bbq pork at the market served on mashed yuca (manioc) and slaw, wrapped in a banana leaf. Monday I had my pastry and my pelibuey.
Yes that is iguana for sale in the Leon market downtown, although I never saw it offered on any menu. I just stayed in Leon a couple of days but as luck would have it, or as a gift from above, I stopped to listen to a band begin their set on an open-air stage downtown and when I heard the Santana style I hurried back to the hostal for my guiro. I started playing along and the band members called me up onstage and we jammed out for a couple of hours to a very appreciative crowd.
I woke up before dawn and did some Qi Gong under the stars by the pool, then I grabbed my belongings and took a taxi to the bus station. The direct bus to the El Salvadoran border had left at 4:30 AM, so I took a chicken bus to Chinandega, then a shuttle to the border, watching the Volcan Chinandega as I left Nicaragua.
The journey continues. First of all I would like to thank those of you who chipped in to buy me a new camera after my previous one broke. I didn´t think I would be blogging much without photos. As a result the only town I won´t be able to share photos of is Playa Coco, Costa Rica, and it was a beautiful, if overpriced, spot.
I did stay in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua over a week, although the constant partying at the Surfing Donkey was not my style. They started playing music before noon, so I started playing guitar and singing after breakfast to get mine in, and later many guests communicated the pleasure they had in waking up to my music. Otherwise I played outside on the sidewalk or on a bench in the plaza. I met some outstanding people at Surfing Donkey, however, and I actually had a shot of rum and a beer my last night, the first in 12 years! That night we had a big barbecue featuring mahi mahi and shrimp kebabs, and the hostel filled up and was roaring even more than usual. I was ready to leave for Costa Rica the next morning.
The chicken bus ride to the main highway was short and cheap, and I of course met someone as I was leaving that I had met before in Granada. I waved off the taxi that offered to take me to the border, so he offered the ride for $2 and I accepted. The ride was short, but the line to enter Costa Rica immigration was very long, like a half hour wait I think. From there it was easy to catch a bus to Liberia, and guess what? no chicken buses in Costa Rica! it was a comfortable ride.
The Hotel Liberia was nice and mellow and clean, and I lucked into a dorm room with no roommate for $10. The food here in Costa Rica is expensive however, and it is just a given to spend at least $5 a meal here. Keeping to my $20 a day budget will be next to impossible.
I enjoyed a wonderful rainstorm and cool cloudy, windy day in Liberia, then left to the coast nearby. Playa del Coco is beautiful but the food is even more expensive, and the place is crawling with tourists who apparently don´t mind paying the inflated prices. I stayed in the one of the few hostels that had dorms for $10 an night, but it was pretty ugly in that section. The owner said he was planning to tear that building down in a month or so and put in a swimming pool. Here is where I pulled out my camera to discover that the lens had dropped down and was incapable of taking photos. The next day I decided to go back to Liberia and hang out there a while.
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.
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:
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.