June 25, 2008

Everybody warned us that Nicaragua is hot!
But how can it be? We´ve been so long in mountains with perfect cycling weather, except for the rain. But they were correct! The moment we crossed the border the clouds disappeared and it was hot.
After a quick passport control (which surprised us with a $20 fee, though we had a visa) we had a long descent to a wide hot valley. We stopped in Ocotal, used the ATM, and bought a SIM card for our cellular. All together, we spent 2 hours in this charming colonial town. While leaving a band was playing in the central plaza and kids were wearing costumes, and fireworks were exploding in the air.
We thought of staying, we were even invited to crash in by the owner of the internet café (a Bulgarian) but we felt we´re way behind our schedule and Colombia is waiting.
Looking at our topographic map, we decided to detour to Leon going between a bunch of volcanoes. We still had "volcanoes" on our 'to do' list.

Sunny Nicaragua.
A good plastic bag, lasted for a year and a half!

Peace Corps – Part II 15/06/08
We left the Pan-Am, heading south-west towards Leon. Everybody told us the road is in bad condition, but with the bikes we could find a path between the pot holes.
The first part was terrible (and slow). Then it improved and we became optimistic.
Then Rami learned not to spray directly the san-glasses lens spray on the camera lens - the hard way. During the beautiful descent in the valley the lens were foggy.
At around 16:00 we passed a small village. As we left a blond guy came cycling. He introduced himself as Greg, of the Peace Corps, and after a short small talk we decided to stop early and spend the night at his place.
A biologist, sent by the Peace Corps, Greg tried teaching the locals the science of agriculture. He explained us that this volcanic soil is filled with clay – bad for agriculture. He showed us his 'worm-bed', where his worms create very healthy soil. He pointed to this tiny 4 year old banana tree of his landlord, and then, proudly, introduced his huge healthy 1.5 year old banana tree.
He was very frustrated from the lazy locals, not interested in his knowledge. Only recently, after 2 years, his landlord finally created a small worm-bed.
We cooked dinner while Greg jumped to bring beers. The moment he left the house a storm arrived and 5 minutes later he returned soaked with the beers.
We enjoyed the evening and the tropical storm outside. Gal slept on a spare mattress and Rami in a hammock.

Bad road.
But beautiful scenery...
Dirty camera lens, stupid Rami!

Before (dry)...
After (wet)...

The next morning Greg sent us off to Malpaisillo, where Branna and her husband Mason live, both in the Peace Corps. The plan was to arrive early and quickly climb volcano Cerro-Negro. We arrived around 12:00 after 40 km, of which 15 were the worst of this road. Mason was away. Branna quickly took us to throw our gear at their house, gave us their bikes and drew a map: 10km of bad dirt road to the extremely poor village, then a few kilometers more of terrible sand, then you ditch the bikes in the bush and you walk round the sandy volcano for about 45 minutes to the other side and then you climb. A rough 6 hours.
Gal reminded Rami that:
1. We were after 40km of tiring road.
2. It was very hot (the hottest area in Nicaragua and Central-America).
3. We´ll be back after dark.
4. If it rains, will we be able to cycle?
Rami was more optimistic.
The road was terrible, the village extremely poor, we pushed the bikes in the sand, ditched (locked) them in the bush and walked (glad to be off the bikes). After 30 minutes of walking in the annoying volcanic sand, seeing that we have a long way to the top and we will have over 2 hours of cycling in the rough dirt road in the dark, Rami came to a super-mature decision to return. We walked face down, ashamed, back to the bikes – we still had to cycle back. Cyclists hate to cycle back.
We reached 'home' just before sunset (Rami feeling very mature about his late decision), receiving a warm welcome from Branna. She cooked a very tasty stew (which made us carry Indian curry) and we cooked for the first time sweet yellow platanos (like bananas) for desert.

Very bad road...
Volcanno Cerro Negro.
On the way back.

Flor de Caña 18/06/08
In Leon, a nice colonial town (which we liked, fun market), we slept in a cheep guesthouse, again, with all the travelers/art-people, some Nicaraguan, mostly Latin-American.
On our second night there (a rest day), one of the guest, French girl, brought a bottle of the local rum – Flor De Caña.
Turns out, that the best rum in the world (so rum-drinkers say) is produced 30km to the west. We all chipped in and emptied the 7-year-old bottle. We´re not big rum drinkers, but it was damn good and damn cheep - $6 for a 750ml 7-year-old bottle.
A few days later, in Granada, we bought a bottle.

On the way to Leon.


What's on their head?
Fruit & vegetables.
Iguanas in the market.

The 'volcano' experience 20/06/08
We stopped at the market town of Masaya (between Managua, the capital, and Granada).
We took our bikes and cycled back west the 10km to the entrance of park Volcano Masaya. On the short way we were cought by heavy rain, so we hid in a house for an hour.
When we reached the park, we were told that the visibility is bad: lots of steam due to the rain. An hour later the rain stopped and till we reached the top the visibility improved.
The neighboring craters were very impressive. "Santiago" very active, had a small eruption just 2 days ago and constantly releases gasses (like Rami).and "Masaya" not active, filled with vegetation. Not much to do there, but impressive.

Volcano Santiago, smoking.
Tropical storm.
The crater.

Volcano Masaya.

Laguna de Apuyo.

Granada 21/6/08
Granada was a "destination" for us since Honduras. Indeed a beautiful colonial city, recovering from an earthquake, 5-6 years ago. It´s not as developed as Antigua, smaller and quieter.
As usual, Rami was a bit worried about reaching a 'tourist destination', but, the moment we found a small quiet guesthouse, owned by s friendly, happy, music-loving family, we fell in love with the city.
2 things about Nicaragua: music everywhere and wooden rocking chairs.
In the evening we met Yehonatan, the Israeli motorcyclist, who reached Granada from Zombrano (Jorge´s house) in 1 day, resuming his trip after he hurt his leg.
The next day we recognized another Kawasaki motorcycle and soon met Lucy and Gered. The reunion was fun and we felt good about not being the slowest travelers. We invited everybody for dinner in our guesthouse, only latewr thinking our guesthouse owners won't like the 'dinner-party' in their living room!
We drank "Flor de Caña", the local rum, and were impressed of the owners, who didn't mind at all the guests.

With Yehonatan, Lago Nicaraga, Granada.
Colonial Architecture.
Drinking the local rum, on a traditional rocking chair.
Drying lettuce for salad; our room.
With Lucy & Jared at the Zoom Bar, thanks - Wayne & Cheryl.

Lago Nicaragua 23/06/08
We decided to take the 15 hours ferry from Granada to San-Carlos, crossing Lake Nicaragua. Our other options were the Pan-Am highway, with it´s heavy traffic and a specific section notorious for robberies of cyclists, or the northern road, partly paved, not a wise choice during the rainy season. We took Matts' recommendation and spent another $10 for 'first class' tickets; second floor of the tiny boat, air-con room (too coold, good we had our winter clothes) with banches, bearly snough for the people, a TV with the most embarrassing Mexican cowboy movies, but, the highlight: an open deck, where people tie hammocks, when it´s not raining.
After 5 hours of bad seas, a tropical storm and no visibility of the surrounding volcanoes, the boat stopped at Isla de Ometepe. Gal, sea-sick, wanted to get off (and burn the boat), but we were told by the locals that the bumpy part ends 2 hours east of the island. A million platanos were loaded (as if they don't have enough platanos elsewhere) and we continued.
Indeed, 2 hours later, Gal´s prayers were answered and the lake calmed. Rami, among others, tied the small, but good hammock Shai Reuveni gave us, and comfortably slept the night. Gal found enough room to lie down (a few left at the island, a few to the hammocks).
At 05:00 we woke up to see San-Carlos. Gal was all sweating in here winter clothes; they turned off the air-con in the middle of the night.
It started to rain as we unloaded our gear.

All aboaaaaard!!!
Bumpy lake...
Rami sleeping in our hammock.
The calm lake in the early morning.
Land Ahooooooy!

San-Carlos 24/06/08
We were too tiered to continue and it was raining, so we took a room in a small guest house, with a fantastic wooden porch, just on the lake.
The tiny village was a classic lake-village, all built of wood, wooden balconies, small 'lancha'-boats – a poor fishing village, very remote from anywhere (8 hours on a terrible dirt road till the Pan-Am). We had a fantastic fish soupe in the market.
The next morning we quickly passed immigration, loaded our stuff on a large lancha and enjoyed an hour of a beautiful boat ride through the Rio Frio, to Los Chiles, Costa-Rica.

Looking at the lake.
The lake front.

Adios Nicaragua! We enjoyed passing through it.

Bienvenidos a Costa-Rica, Rio Frio.