Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day 78 to 79 – to Somotillo, Nicaragua

7 to 8 June    Kms travelled – 18,649

I had to drag myself out of bed and out of Alajuela, with nose still running and cold still dragging my energy levels down.  But I wanted to move on. 

It doesn´t take very long for the heat and humidity to cause some discomfort while wearing full motorcycle gear, even with the suit vents wide open.  But once you have passed the sensation of everything being damp with sweat, the moisture really helps you cool down as the breeze passes through your gear on the road.  I guess that is why we sweat in the first place, and why the locals here see sweating not as unsightly, but as a healthy sign.  One chap noted to me that I should start worrying if I stopped sweating – and I guess he is right on that point.  I did start feeling a bit dizzy after about 2 hours on the road, however, which was a clear sign that my drugs needed topping up and more fluids were in order.  That done, and feeling better, we were back at it.

The roads heading on up were pretty clear and it wasn´t long before I was closing on Liberia and, given that it was still in the morning, I decided to press on to the border – armed with a few bars of chocolate.

The total time I needed to get Idris and I out of Costa Rica and into Nicaragua was less than an hour and a half, and was a generally enjoyable experience.  People were helpful and friendly, and I wasn´t hassled much by border ´guides´.  Indeed, once they realised that I could hold my own in Spanish we had quite a nice chat about the trip and the respective countries.  Interestingly, while these guys and gals (though not so many gals) would happily charge a fee for their services, they do in fact let slip most of what they know about the border process for free while trying to tout for business.  While standing your ground and repeatedly noting that you don´t want any help, they are busily pointing out where you need to go for immigration and customs services, which is most useful if you are planning to do it all yourself!

Nicaragua was a real surprise.  Moving in from the border I was met with better quality roads (this wasn´t to last, but the first impressions were good), clean countryside and a sense of a place in good order.  It felt less developed – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it simply felt poorer – but that economic disparity did not seem to cross over into lack of care or pride in what was theirs.  You saw more flesh driven vehicles, as opposed to oil driven ones, but that seemed to add to the charm of the place.  It also seemed to make the place more real.  The ride up along Lake Nicaragua with the impressive volcanoes settled within it was also a boost.  A great sight, and one that stayed with us most of the way into Granada.

By the time I hit town it was mid afternoon, the heat was at its height, and so was the toll demanded by my stinky cold.  I made a half hearted effort to find a budget place with secure parking – and then headed straight to a nice hotel I had seen advertised on the road in (Hotel Granada).  Perhaps my most expensive stay of the Central Americas, but a much needed place to crash and recover some energy.  They put together a lovely bit of locally caught fish for dinner, Guapote, which I would heartily recommend to any fish lover, and offered a level of service that would put a smile on any North American.  A short walk round the hot and humid town revealed a lovely mix of tourist services nestled between local homes, giving the impression of a town not wholly given over to the gringo dollar (but which gains sufficient from that trade to maintain the charming city centre and quite a number of local families).  I loved the place, and would have stayed so much longer if I had felt better and if the place was just a little cooler!

The slow start due to my general weariness the next morning (and the fantastic fruit based breakfast which was included in the price) meant that the bike was already toasty hot by the time we were ready to hit the road.  We headed for Masaya with the plan of taking the CA1 up into the hills and (possibly) cooler weather, but an error in navigation saw us rolling into busy Managua – where a couple of local policemen tried to sting me for a $100 fine.  Aside from the fact that they were both about 12 years old, and clearly inventing the so called crime of changing lanes (!), I think I would have played along a bit more just for the fun of it if they had just been a bit better at the extortion.  But the game was played so badly that I just wanted to get under way again – so my belligerence and pedantry came to the fore pointing out the error in their own arguments and, without overtly saying so, leaving no uncertainty to the fact that I was going to take the matter further.  They let me off with a warning, and seemed glad to see me go.  I was a little angry for a while – if you are going to take me for a fool then at least apply a little intelligence yourself – but that soon wore off and I began to see the funny side.  In fact looking back the whole episode was funny, particularly the look on their faces when I asked (in all seriousness) where I would need to go and present my case and that I should take photographs of the scene.  One thing I did not do was ask how much was the fine or whether it was payable on the spot (I sensed at the outside that is exactly what they were looking for) - they offered this information after a time, but in a most uncomfortable way!  Oh, and another thing, the driving licence they had hold of was a colour photocopy laminated to look like an official document.  Worst case scenario is that I would have taken the fine (but not paid it) and left them with a worthless piece of paper.

Heading out of town, now chuckling, I took another wrong turn and ended up on a road going in the right direction, but which gradually turned into dirt.  It was a nice ride however, and enabled me to see much more of this fantastic countryside.  But before I knew it I was back on the black stuff and rolling past Chinandega and heading towards the border.  There was still plenty of time before the clouds that were starting to build above would empty their load, so we ran right up to the border town of Somotillo and settled into a very friendly hotel outside of the urban area.  

Then the heavens opened, but only after the most spectacular display of wind, thunder and lightning.  You can really enjoy a good thunderstorm when you are secure in the feeling that you are in a safe place.  I loved this one, and was joined by dogs, cats, lizards, the biggest toad I have ever seen and parrots as we all sheltered under the large dining canopy in the front of the hotel.  Fantastic! 

Thought for the day
Costa Rica was full of great friendly people, but I struggle to offer more detailed comment as I really didn´t give it much of a chance.  A couple of days seen through a snotty visor is hardly the best way to gain an insight into a country´s culture.  But not being one short of opinions, I did form some and should record those here.  I felt that the place had lost its way a little.  

On first impressions it was difficult to see what Costa Rican culture might be, as it had been veiled with one imported from the US.  Like most of Central America it has some impressive countryside, but you could almost have been in parts of Florida at times.  I´m not sure that I was expecting that from a Central American country, and the cultural change was much more noticeable as you moved into Nicaragua where that northern influence was much less marked and the local colour more inviting.  

1 comment:

  1. Again, very impressive landscape and interesting comments, e.g. about Costa Rica.
    Your cold should "dry out" as you head for the sizzling U.S. - even in Chicago it is 38 C today - and that is north!
    Stay safe, enjoy the trip in search of ...