Sunday, September 30, 2012

Visa Run Day 1: All's well that ends . . . with a sunset

DISCLAIMER: Alison here . . .  I’m writing a series of guest blogs covering 9/30-10/7 – the dates where Nick, Minh and I joined Vic on his visa run to Nicaragua. It actually times out quite well with the non-working order of Vic’s lap top and the incidental lack of frequent updates! Admittedly, I am a bit intimidated – but will do my best to be as informative and witty as the turtle man himself and stick to the format. Here goes . . . 

Date: Sunday 9/30/12

Location: Nicaragua: Managua, Granada & San Juan del Sur

Word of the day: Hola (I’m just getting started here . . . )

Nicaragua Fact:  During the 1700's, when early Costa Ricans were cutting down rain forests to make grazing prairies for livestock - Nicaraguan rain forests were alive and well! The lack of leveling these trees has resulted in a wilder, more mature rain forest climate in this country than it's neighbor to the South

12:30AM land in Nicaragua, prepared to meet Nick & Vic and begin vacation!
When the plane touches down, it is the first moment I feel a small trace of panic as I realize that I just landed in a foreign country where I do not speak the language and have no way of contacting the two people I am meeting. Calm myself down, de-plane, collect my bags and head to customs. 
In the airport terminal, panic is slightly elevated as I realize I am unable to connect to the airport WiFi and alert the boys I have landed. This is an integral part of the plan in which Nick and Vic will have already rented the car at 7:30PM and I would alert them when I have landed. But nothing.  Eek.
Customs is a breeze and I’m checked in to the country (passport stamp – WOOHOO!) Quickly realize no one here speaks English. Should’ve brushed up on my (non-existent) Spanish.
I collect my bags and head to the final screening area where they will be scanned. After scanning, I will be released into the tropical outdoors of a country I have never seen. My last flickers of panic vanish as I walk through the double doors and immediately see Nick standing there with his bags! Yay! But then I quickly realize something has gone wrong as he is standing there alone – not riding in a car with Vic.
Turns out Nick couldn’t pick up the car since he was not 25 and Vic couldn’t come help out as his license was back in Costa Rica. Nick had to wait for me – but we were easily able to pick up the car together and head on our way!
Using the GPS and a pre-loaded Google Maps site – we attempted to navigate the dark, unmarked and increasingly windy roads of Managua on our way through down and out to the hotel where we are meeting Vic. After doubling back a time or two, and accidentally turning a corner into a group of surly teenagers and their thousand dogs – we finally make it to the hotel at 3AM local time (4AM for me; 5AM for Nick). So happy to see Vic! We all hug and chat and catch up – but eventually give in to tiredness and siesta for a couple hours before breakfast and our first adventure day. 

7AM wake up and head outside to grab some hotel breakfast and coffee. Vic chose a hotel that was run by some local Italian expats, so the food has an interesting Central American/Italian twist. Coffee is delicious, eggs, ciabatta and pastries are filling and yummy. We talk about what we want to do and where we want to go – consulting the Lonely Planet guidebook and our server throughout the meal. 
We decide on driving through Granada, checking out a local volcano hike and then ending in San Juan del Sur where we will try and find a hotel near the beach. In the Southern part where we are driving – things are pretty close together, so we are not looking at too many hours in the car.
After breakfast – we pack up and head out with the GPS set to Granada. We stop at a gasolinera on our way out of town to pick up water and snacks. Nick warns me of his fear that traveling with girls is nothing but complaining, stopping to pee and eating.  I immediately decide that we will get along and that I should drink less water.  

The drive was easy and the well paved road dumped us into the colorful, windy town of Granada. On first approach – you can see the influence of the well-built colonial buildings that welcome you into the city. But this quickly changes into the low rise, one-room buildings obscured by carts and vendors parked out front selling their wares. The streets are filled with throngs of people selling, shopping and buying. We drive along at a crawl navigating through the foot and car traffic, which gives us plenty of time to look around and scope out the town. None of us dare to mention any attempt to get out and observe the madness by foot. 
Through the slow crawl – we somehow find ourselves in the midst of a Sunday church parade through downtown Granada! We happily follow tuba players, banner holders and happy church goers down the main road until we turn off and find an open area to continue on our way to Mombacho (the volcano).
Mombacho is only a few kilometers South of Granada and before we know it, we have purchased a trail map (compliments of Nicks’s Spanish skills) and are waling up a steep, paved road toward the trails. There was an option to take a tram – but we opted out to save the $$. The hike kicked out butts – it was steep and HOT – but it was a great first look at the fauna of Nicaragua. 
Three uphill kilometers later, we arrive at a coffee shop perfectly positioned to relax and enjoy a sip before the next hiking section. We all try coffee (iced – we are still very hot) and sit and chat. At this point, we decide the tram is worth it to take us the rest of the way up the volcano toward the trails that circle Mombacho. We chat with the tram driver and are magically able to get him to agree for a lower price. We climb into the seats in the back – excited to see the views without the leg workout. 

The drive is bouncy, windy and worth it! Trees whipped by us and we climbed up the volcano, out of the heat of the day and into the cool, enveloping mist of a cloud. The top of the volcano is completely saturated with clouds and the cool, damp air is a relief! Ten minutes later, we are at the tippy top and ready to hike the trails around the volcano.
We get a quick briefly of what we will see and head on our way. We have an hour and a half to complete the trail and make the last tram down the volcano (definitely important – we had come a long way). The trail was gorgeous. Tropical vines and trees hung down over the entrance and the trail itself was lined with mossy trees, ferns and epiphites galore. Vistas where you could stop and look out were obscured by the density of the clouds we were within – but that site was amazing in itself – knowing how high up we were and what was below.

We took a break at the Vista with some cheese curds Vic received in a care package a la the other Romers. Delicious sustenance to continue the hike! There were some windy paths through the rocks of the volcano – just narrow enough to walk through. Roots dangled from the trees above to gather moisture and nutrients in the air – a truly “rainforest” way for a tree’s roots to behave. 

We came upon a sulfur vent where the hot gas from inside the volcano was released. It was obviously stinky – but pretty cool to see. 

At the end of the hike – we arrived off the trail just in time to catch the tram down. They drove us all the way down the volcano and back to our car – which was a happy relief to save both time and energy. 

Back in the car –we set the GPS to San Juan del Sur and began discussing hotel options that we found in the guidebook. Hotel Ana Mar seems pretty perfect – good reviews and right on the beach – so we set our sights on that, fingers crossed they would have rooms available.
A quick 45 minute drive later, we arrive in the small beach town of San Juan del Sur. This was much less intimidating than Granada and could easily be compared to a small surfing tow in Southern California. We followed the GPS to Hotel Ana Mar and to our delight saw it was RIGHT on the beach! We parked, walked in, chatting with the staff and discovered that we could have a private room with bunk beds (no air conditioning – but includes a private bathroom) for only $10 each! The room wasn’t much too look at – but it was nice and opened up into the outdoor hotel bar/restaurant, a pool and then BEACH (BEACH)! Not to mention an amazing view of the pacific ocean and the upcoming sunset. We booked two nights – moved our luggage in and got settled. 

Vic made up up a few beach cocktails of Nicaraguan rum and Coca-Cola and we set out to the beach to sit and watch the sun go down. The sun sets around 5:15PM here! There is no daylight savings time in Central America – so this probably varies dramatically throughout the year – but it’s a good reminder that you have to get up early if you want to enjoy the day time!
Our view of the sunset included tree-covered cliffs flanking the wide expanse of the Pacific ocean, one of which was topped with a tributary statue of Jesus overlooking the tiny town. The sunset was beautiful, the conversation was fun and the drinks were delicious! Easily a fabulous start to our Central American adventure. 

We ended the day with dinner and cervezas at a restaurant on the beach. We had ceviche, lobster, shrimp and a variety of other seafood, all with the sound of waves and a view of the ocean in the background Because of the conversion rate from American dollars to Nicaraguan cordobas – we were happy to pay the bill when we left! We walked back to the hotel along the beach during low-ish tide, stopping for an ice cream cone at a beach-side shop along the way.
9PM bedtime – we have an early morning ferry to catch for our next adventure!
  • Sometimes you just have to cross your fingers, wish for the best and just go for it
  • No matter what the day will bring – you’re always going to get sweaty in Nicaragua
  • Sunset + rum = vacation 
  • Poached (as in cooked – not stolen) eggs
  • Ciabatta
  • Fleur de Cana
  • Ceviche
  • Lobster
  • Cervezas
Animals: None! Vic informed us that Nicaraguans have been known to include lizards in their diet – so we didn’t even see one of those! We did see this awesome heart-shaped trail left by a sea snail though:  
Something I am thankful for: Good company! Starting a week-long adventure with good conversation and a lot of laughing was instantly relaxing and set the tone for our whole trip

Something I don't want to admit: The initial hike up Mombacho toward the trails kicked my butt. I tried really hard not to stop and catch my breath – but it had to be done.

Total Nest I have saved: no turtles yet . . .
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol:  NA
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 0
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 0
Days of Rain: No rain - woohoo! It’s the rainy season – so this was a concern . . . but no problema
Distance traveled: 143 kilometers (88 miles)

1 comment:

  1. You're shorting yourself on the mileage here . . . Don't you count transit from the U.S.? Great start to your week!