Having entered Nicaragua via a very remote area, spent a few days of lovely relaxed riding through a flat, hot, super fresh green country site, now things have changed. Two days ago a peaceful protest march has been ended by the police by shooting people in the head. Due to the unrest in the country we have changed the planned, more remote route, to following the main road and trying to bike as quickly as possible past the big cities. Read more in the NYT on what happened
To bike or not to bike.
Sunday starts with final discussion on what to do today: to ride or not to ride. As Sunday is a day that people have more time thus a higher risk of new protest marches and people in the streets, we decide to spend the day at the secluded basic hotel just outside of Managua and work on the blog. It is not the protesters we fear, but the reaction of police and the para military thugs they pay to cut down the protests, by randomly shooting at people. Sunday is spent behind the computer and a short walk to the big supermarket across the street.
Waking up at night contemplating what am I doing here, why do we do this? Is this still why we went on this trip? Why did we really go on this trip? Questions spinning (south) in the mind without clear answers.
Monday early morning call as we want to see how far we can get today. Biking out of Managua is strenuous as roadworks made HW2 a very narrow road, lots of trucks and all combined in a 800m uphill over 20km. Where are they going? Are there no roadblocks?
After reaching the top we are hit by a very strong side wind, luckily not pushing us into traffic but to the side. And then we see the back of the first trucks that are not moving. 5km of trucks until the Diriamba.
Protesters have burned tires in the city centre and built a blockage with bricks and barrels. We descent and walk the last meters. Men with masks and handmade mortar guns wave us through.
We bike through a desolated city with only some local transportation possible and when we hit Pan American again, we see 7 km of stranded inbound trucks. Lots of them have put their truck in the middle of the road so normal cars or colleagues can’t pass them. Means that we bump off and on the road and weave in between the trucks. It is still early and we don’t want to stay in town, as you don’t know what will happen, we check in at a road hotel. We are the only guests.It is amazingly quiet on the road. Almost no traffic, while we don’t see any further roadblocks on the internet page which should be showing all of them. Have we passed them all?
Neither of us sleeps well and we notice that unconsious stress demands quite some energy. However we can’t complain as we found a clean place to sleep just before it started to rain, we had a swim in a big swimming pool and we had the whole place for ourselves completed by a juicy steak in their restaurant!
The Pan America like you never have seen it.
We continue biking the Pan America HW2 with only a tiny bit of local traffic. We have the road to ourselves.
But then in Belen we see why, again the start of a new roadblock, with again 500+ trucks. We chat with a few truckers and discover that this blockage only started 3 days ago and is only moving very slowly. People try to make the best of it.
One young guy on a bike says he will lead us through the blockade in return for some money.
We believe we could have done this on our own but he is good in weaving between the trucks so earns some money, we appreciate the initiative.
The country has come to a standstill.
In the centre of Rivas protesters have erected bigger blockage. Closing off all roads with higher walls. More protesters present. Frank chats with one of the protesters while I sneak a photo. Never felt unsafe but did feel eery, especially in combination with the rain.Ometepe.
In Rivas we take the decision to still take the ferry to Ometepe, the highest Island in a sweet water lake. Lago Nicaragua is the 19th largest lake in the world and equals about 20% of the area of The Netherlands. The lake may change forever as the Nicaraguan government has granted Hong Kong based HKND a 50 year concession to build and operate a 278 km long canal through Nicaragua. It will connect Atlantic and Pacific Ocean as a 2nd Panama Canal and will go right through Lake Nicaragua. Environmentalists fear that the shallow lake will become a dead zone due to dredging residue and shipping pollution.
Aim is to climb the second highest volcano of Nicaragua. The island consists of two volcanos, one active, one dormant. Seems that they represent the two breast of the drowned Indian daughter who felt in love with the son of a rebellion tribe. As their love was not approved they decided to kill themselves.
On the boat to Ometepe we meet Carlos who explains he owns a hostel and would accommodate us for 10$ as there are no tourists.
We follow him and both feel we can’t refuse even if it is the most basic place we have stayed in in Central America. It is a hospederia, meaning you rent a room (with bathroom) at somebodies place and can use their kitchen. Living room is shared.
They help us to arrange a guide for tomorrow with the escape route that if the weather is too terrible we can postpone. Looking forward hiking!
But then at night the rain starts, terrible, hard, without any pause and we have a corrugated roof so a nice sound! Still we get up at 4:30 to get ready. Our guide calls at 5:30 to see if we still want to go for the top as he expect further rain. It is still pouring down and we don’t see that the sky is getting any clearer, the weather app indicates heavy rain at least till noon, so we decide to cancel the hike.
As the weather is so bad we only can read, plan our further route and wait it out.
When the rain stops we bike to the entrance of the park,
Volcano Constitution still has his cloud cap on.
Pigs do have a good life here.
We have a drink at “the Landing” and try to do some grocery shopping, as we can use the kitchen of our homestay. Most of the shelves in the super market are already empty.
Smaller shops do have the basics and we buy everything for macaroni. I try to chat a bit with our host Carlos, but he turns into an Evangelist questioning our believes and (literally) singing praise of Jesus. In the meantime we understand that our friend Baby Jesus (who we met in Leon) is on his way to Ometepe. We meet him at the harbour.
He biked all the way from Managua in one day, killer! Pizza just for the 3 of us, the town seems deserted. Wondering how long they will keep those restaurants open as keeping a pizza oven on the right temperature to serve only 3 or maybe no customers is a costly affair. Jesus also wants to hike Constitution as he hiked the other volcano Maderas when he visited Ometepe years ago.
Too many options.
We still are discussing what to do the next day. I notice I have offered Frank too many options and the if, what, when is not putting him in a good mood. Finally we decide, no matter how the weather will be, to leave the next day. We have checked departure times when waiting for Jesus, so we know that there will be boats leaving at 6-8-9-11 and afternoon. As we still need to pack everything we decide to go for the 8:00 boat. Getting up at 5:30 we are at the harbour and ready to leave at 7:30. But the 8:00 is cancelled and after 10 minutes they inform us that the 9:00 is not sailing either due to insufficient customers to justify the use of gasoline which is becoming very spars at the moment. Still there will be one more boat leaving this afternoon, at 16:00. So we have a short day to wander the island. We hike the Charco Verde Reserve, visit the butterfly garden,
check out the ceramic museum of El Ceibo (located in an old tabaco drying building) visit the only art gallery on the island. Jose Abel Vargas Lopez is painting in his studio with an amazing view of the lake. Makes very detailed oil paintings and his paintings are in multiple museums across the world.
I like one of his smaller paintings a lot and we decide to take it with us, benefit is that we will see Ans & Henk in a month time, so they can take it home with them 😊. After that we have an amazing view at Punta Jesus Maria. All the time is has been raining, varying from drizzle to downpour.
Even with all we did we are still back at 14:45 and discover a boat just left 10 minutes ago as they had quite some gringos to transport. We can still buy a ticket for the 16:00 boat so we are not concerned. However it gets cancelled last minute. Not enough people and they are running very short on fuel. Seems they only still have enough for a short week if not sailing more than 2 times a day.
We decide to not go back to our previous hospederia as I don’t need to face a 2nd discussion on faith. We decide to stay in The Landing and to our surprise Jesus’ bike is still there. We have a Mexican dinner with the 3 of us at the place next doors. Amazing to hear from Jesus that when he was here last time he even could not find a place to sleep as everything was packed!
To leave or not to leave.
Next day up at 4:30 (who says travelling isn’t work) to be at the quay at 5:30 for tickets and a spot on the boot. Hurray we sail at 6:30.
Have to say I am happy that we are off the island, even if people are very friendly and we really feel sorry for their loss of business. There is sufficient food on the island, definitively enough water for the moment and chicken and pigs running around freely, but at one moment essentials as oil and rice will run out.
Arriving at Rivas we head straight towards Costa Rica. But first breakfast, in town restaurants are open, but can’t serve breakfast as they run out of stock. Trucks are still stuck, only moving every so many hours maybe 1 kilometer.
At one moment we see a roadside breakfast place, 3 sisters who normally run the border restaurant have moved their business to this spot, already for 8 days!
Great beans with rice (gallo pinto) and fried eggs. We see again trucks from all over Central America, chatting with a bunch of Panama drivers who inform us that they are already 8 days on the road of which 4 days in road blocks. There is no gasoline in Rivas and the major supermarket is closed.
In 3 days we will see more than 1.500 stranded trucks from all over Central America. On this very short piece of the HW, imagine all the other road blocks.
We wish all of them a lot of strength and we hope that the current situation will be solved without further bloodshed.
The ride to the border is with a breeze, pity most of the breeze is coming from the wrong direction. We do understand why there are several windmill parks around here.
Incoming traffic from Costa Rica has been reduced, only 2 upcoming trucks and no trucks from behind.
We check-out of Nicaragua with mixed feelings, such a beautiful country, friendly people, great nature and easy to cycle country as most of it is flat. We did not encounter any problems but do check current situation before travelling as it feels like a volcano on the verge of exploding. Once peace has returned and roadblocks are solved a country to definitively go to and explore!
Border crossing to Costa Rica is without an issue. We are the only ones at the huge migration office.
Such a strange feeling, nature even seems greener and more lush, as if crossing the border we also crossed a natural border. We bike all the way to La Cruz and notice why everybody is saying that Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America. Not (yet) because of the mountains, as this was only a 300 m climb but you can imagine why.
We finally find a hotel with an unbelievable view of Salinas Bay. Cooking our dinner on the lawn feels like camping 2.0.
In the morning we both are still tired and hope that being in safer area will release the stress. We still decide to start biking even if this is an unbelievable spot. Hotel Amalias!
Next stop is Liberia as we want to hike our first National Park, Rincon De La Vieja. We still have the benefit of almost no traffic on the Pan America but if there is traffic you need to get of the road. Very small shoulder and they speed past the limit.
We arrive just after lunch and are astonished by the price levels. We check 5 different places to finally return to the first one as this looked very clean and had a big room, especially if staying 2 nights a bit more space is best. Ariana converted the house she was born in into a hostel. You still cook in the kitchen where her mother cooked the meals. Very nice house and new clean beds! Will we sleep in tomorrow? As it is Sunday?
Find out in next weeks blog.
And yes this was week 52 away from home.
Check out our Sunday Selfie page. Do you see the change?