January 15, 2003 GMT
If its Tuesday it must be…………..

The road to Granada was easy and in good condition, the driving too was a lot less hazardous, so we took it easy and got to the hostel in the late afternoon. Parking was right at the back of the building, through the restaurant, bar, reception, laundry, toilets, rooms and into a leafy patio. For once we didn’t lock the bikes together – they weren't going anywhere without someone noticing!!

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Through the restaurant to where we could park the bikes

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Leaving was much easier.

Spent a couple of days looking around the city, it was a little too busy with tourists and consequently very expensive – by Nicaraguan standards anyway. We tried the local speciality “vigarron” from one of the booths in the park, fried pork skin served with coleslaw and yukka, on an enviromentally friendly banana leaf. Not bad, like pork scratchings on steroids. Another real treat was ice cream, reasonably priced here and great in the heat.

Leaving Granada, we rode towards Masaya Volcano. At a big junction we stopped at the side of the road to look at the map and were told to stop by the police there. Because I had come to a brief halt actually on the road before pulling onto the side, he took my driving licence to examine. He then wanted to talk to Arno and Georg, who, by asking for directions to Managua and being very polite, managed to get my papers back without parting with any money, while I stood and looked repentant on the side of the highway. At the entrance to the National Park where the volcano was located, we got more info and found we would need at least the whole morning to make the most of the $6 entry fee. Decided to wait until Costa Rica to go and see volcanoes and instead rode back past the policeman (that will confuse him!) and towards the border with Costa Rica. We took a quick detour to the beach, the Pacific side this time away from the rain. Took a dirt road from San Juan del Sur, along the coast to Playa Majagual, where you can camp by the beach for $1.

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A peaceful sunset on the Pacific Coast

The evening started well with a lovely sunset and improved when the generator failed, so no loud music!! One drawback here in Central America, you can’t get away from the noise of TVs and radios. Even if you choose a nice quiet restaurant, the owners will turn on the TV or stereo especially for you!! So we spent a peaceful evening in front of a real fire, with only the sound of the waves and the insects to disturb us.

The following day, we were ready to face another border. We spent only 5 days in Nicaragua and I feel a little like those Japanese or American tourists who “do” Europe in 2 weeks. More time would have been great as the people are friendly and there is lots to see and do away from the tourist stop of Granada. If we are to see anything at all of Costa Rica however, and be in time to book our bikes onto the ferry to Peru, at the end of the month, we need to get a wiggle on.

The road took us along Lake Nicaragua and we got a good view of the volcanic island of Ometepe.

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Lake Nicaragua and the island of Ometepe

It was a windy ride, the wind coming from off the lake and blowing us almost off the road in places. The border was huge, the biggest yet, no wooden shacks here! As we arrived, we were surrounded with a bigger than usual crowd of money changers, tramitadors and hawkers. Ignoring them as usual, we tried to work out where to go and what to do. We took advice from someone in uniform (not always a good idea) and had documents copied, which we never needed, and paid a 14 cordobas “special payment” to enter the customs area. We had been warned about this little scam, but still fell for it! Had to fork out U$2 to leave Nicaragua, at immigration, had to pay in dollars too as they didn’t take anything else, but didn’t pay anything for the bike, just had to get the paperwork stamped by the right person.

Over on the Costa Rican side, things were at first glance much the same, but cleaner. The differences soon became apparent and started with the buses lined up to take people towards San José. No second hand school buses from the USA here, luxury coaches were the norm. The immigration building was huge, complete with café and air conditioning.

Didn’t have to pay a cent to enter the country, we also didn’t pay to have our bikes fumigated (although I’m sure we should have). The only sting in the tail was the compulsory insurance, 4 months costing 5190 colones – about U$14. Had to wait awhile for the customs officer to come back from her lunch, so she could type all the details into a computer, then we were finished and ready for the Costa Rican roads. And yes, they are as bad as everyone says. Most countries so far, have at least attempted to make a good impression with their roads, at least for the first 5 or 10 km’s. Not so here, in the so-called Switzerland of Central America.

The main route through the country, the Pan Americana in fact, was paved, well in a sort of patchwork fashion, that didn’t quite cover the huge potholes that dotted the road like a bad rash. There were also numerous police check-points, at some of which we were stopped and our papers checked. It was a relief to turn off the main highway, away from the traffic, the checks and the terrible surface, onto the road towards Tilarán and Lake Arenal. The road was narrower, but in better condition and not so windy as the highway to San José. The views were also more spectacular, especially as we got close to the lake, and to the village of Nuevo Arenal, where we hoped to spend the night.

Posted by Sian Mackenzie at January 15, 2003 01:50 PM GMT
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