Volcans and Amigos
The Costa Rica - Nicaragua border crossing was pretty easy and straightforward. Hame stood in queues and attempted to find the right windows while I watched our gear and chatted to people. Some more sociable than others, I had to fend off a cheeky local boy who had his eyes on my pockets.
Isla de Ometepe
We'd opted to visit Isla de Ometepe, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. As it was too late to catch the last ferry from San Jorge, we checked into the imaginatively named Hotel California (you could check out any time you liked, but you could never leave). By patriotic coincidence we were given Room Great Britain - each room having a different flag above the door.
In the morning we caught the ferry across choppy waters to Isla de Ometepe. Formed by two volcanoes at either end of the island; Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas are connected by an isthmus to form one dramatic island. Volcan Concepcion is still active, whilst dormant Volcan Maderas apparently provides home to a beautiful crater lake. Mind you, we didn't get that far to find out!
Riding onto the island we headed for the coast to look for a good spot to stay. Suddenly another GS appeared!
Alex and Michelle, from Germany / Australia, were on a five month trip around North and Central America. We decided to look for a place together and headed to Santo Domingo on the other side of the island.
Hangin' out with Alex and Michelle
Staying for a couple of days, we chilled out by the lake with Alex and Michelle, swapping useful info and just generally taking it easy. Unfortunately however, one night our mascot frog, Weegie, who'd joined us back in Perth, Australia, was frog-napped! A sad moment indeed.
After bidding farewell to our new found friends, it was back to the mainland and on to Granada, a pleasent and colourful, but bloody hot, colonial town.
Hotel Don Alfredo
It was here in Granada where we celebrated being on the road for two years, among other things. We bumped into Swiss Lukas whom we'd met on the yacht from Colombia to Panama, who joined us in celebration.
Through the HUBB, we'd made contact with Salvador of Salkar Motos, who kindly opens up his home in the capital, Managua, to travelling bikers. Salvador recommended checking out Laguna de Apoya, a spectacular crater lake, and Volcan Masaya along the way. We weren't to be disappointed.
Laguna de Apoya
Smoking Volcan Masaya
Quick get away car park instruction at Volcan Masaya!
Upon arriving at Salvador's, we recognised his F650 Dakar outside and realised we'd met before; on Ruta 3 in Argentina, back in December 2006! Catching up on what had happened since then, Salvador explained he was about to embark on a month long trip cicumnavigating Nicaragua by bike; a modest Yamaha DT175. Perfect for pulling out of sand and loading onto trucks.
The first trip of its kind, and no mean feat when you consider the remoteness of the Caribbean coast, Salvador had experienced some fame in the local press. With a view to open up such routes to medical NGO's and tourists alike, it'll be interesting to see how his exloratory trip develops.
Maintenance at Salkar Motos
Planning to stay only the one night, we recieved news that Dave, whom we'd met on our last night in Medellin, was expected to arrive the following day. With a few jobs to do on the bike and Salvador's hospitality, it wasn't a hard decision to stay another day and catch up with Dave.
Dave, Hame and Salvador
Departing with the inevatable hangover and plans to meet Dave further up the track, we bid farewell to Salvador and headed for Esteli.
With Jane and Zaira
Jane, a family friend we'd not previously met, ran the recommended Luna Hostal and Cafe Luz there. After negotiating Bertha into the hostal courtyard, we sat down to enjoy a delicious meal and chat with Jane. Involved with the local reserve, Miraflor, Jane who previously worked as a volunteer, now contributes profits to aid development.
Needless to say, we got along famously so stayed another day! Or was it the Marmite that Jane supplied that made Em refuse to budge?
Cigar factory - Esteli
Moto repuestos (spare parts) shop - Esteli
Speaking with both Salvador and Jane, we got a real feeling that Nicaragua was undergoing change. After years of political unrest, we hoped that change was for the better.
We set off for Honduras with anticipation; the border crossing was supposedly notoriously time consuming and officious. So much so, it was sometimes easier to employ a local "runner" to guide you through such procedures.
Maybe because it was a Sunday, or the particular border of Las Manos, but we fortunately found it to be no worse than any other Central American border crossing. Em sat and dozed with an old man while I did the paperwork. There's only one person who can do each job, and if that person happens to be at lunch...you might as well join him! Thoughtfully Jane had provided us with a packed lunch.
Em takes it easy with the locals...
...whilst Bertha takes a breather
Honduras was, like Nicaragua, dry and ready for rain. With the rainy season imminant, we sped north towards Lago de Yojoa, experiencing several forest fires raging on the nearby hillsides.
Our out of date guide book detailed a hostal cum micro-brewery by the lake shore. Surely this was too good an opportunity to miss? Reaching the lake as the sun set akin to a red ball falling from the sky, we circumnavigated the lake in search of the holy grail. All to no avail.
The leaning hostal of Lago de Yojoa
In the end we opted for a "has seen better days" hostal at the south end of the lake which was sinking so much at one end, we had to walk uphill from the bathroom to the bed! However, come the morning the views across the lake and the incredibly musical dawn chorus made up for the sinking room - another twitchers' paradise.
Roadside firework shop
Riding through the beautiful Cordillera de Celaque, we arrived in Gracias, a small colonial town seemingly stuck in time.
Cordillera de Celaque
Traversing the river stone cobbled streets the locals looked on as if we were aliens aboard Starship Bertha; decked out in our riding gear as if we were attending a Startrek convention.
After a couple of enjoyable nights, we transported ourselves out of Gracias and made for nearby Copan Ruinas, home to the World Heritage Site Mayan ruins of Copan.
Unlike some of the ruins we've visited, we were surprised how few tourists were present. Maybe they all came in the morning? Whatever, it made for an enjoyable visit, the peaceful surrounds only being interrupted occasionally by a screeching, colourful Macaw.
The ruins themselves are comprised of temples, pyramids and beautifully carved stelae, set peacefully in a lush valley. The Mayan Kings - with wonderful names like '18 Rabbit' and 'Smoke Monkey' - each constructed different parts of the city. Often, temples were built on top of each other and many tunnels have been discovered snaking underneath the ruins.
Em checks it out
However, I particularly enjoyed the Juego de Pelota (Ball Court), where reputedly, macho Mayans would play for honour; the winner (or loser, we couldn't determine) being sacfificed to the Gods.
Just when we were thinking we'd missed Dave, who should knock on our door? Yet another top tip from Welsh bikers, Rik and Rob, saw us all chowing down on a roast dinner at the British run "Twisted Tanya's". Later on Dave and I continued on a British theme, drinking Tanya out of her Boddington's supply. Oh well.
Crossing easily into Guatemala with Dave the following morning, Em and I faced a dilemma - and not for the first time on this trip. Should we head north and visit Belize and then Tikal, which we wanted to see, or conserve time by giving them a miss and making straight for Antigua?
Up until reaching Central America we appeared to have all the time in the world, now the clock was ticking. Call it bad planning if you will, but we weren't accustomed to making time related decisions.
The debate continued as far as Chiquimula, where we stopped for a drink. It was at this point that Em noticed a substantial bulge in the sidewall of Dave's rear tyre. Fortunately, (there's always a silver lining), a nearby tyre repair shop was able to patch the problem and install a tube for good measure. All as Em advised of course!
"Dave, is that a bulge in your....eh, tyre?"
With a mere 30 k's until we reached the junction, a decision had to be made. Would we turn right and north east to Belize, or left and south west to Antigua? For once we opted for the sensible option, giving ourselves more time to enjoy Mexico and reach Houston by sadly giving Belize a miss.
As experience has taught us though, you don't neccessarily miss something out by making such a decision, you simply experience something else. Which, as it would transpire, was true. We had a great few days with Dave, an easy-going Welshman, whom I'm sure we'll remain friends with in years to come.
Riding together through Guatemala City, it wasn't long before we entered the cobbled colonial streets of Antigua just before dark. The usual search for a hostal con parking ensued; local hotellier Jorge saving the day by providing a suitable solution. Moving his desk to one side in the foyer / cum mobile phone shop, we rode through to park safely. It transpired fellow bike travellers, Martin and Katja, whom we'd met in Ushuaia had stayed here some two months previous. We were obviously lagging behind.
Dave had been conducting some research prior to arriving in Guatemala, announcing that a smooth, dark ale was available locally. A chance not be missed, we set off in search of such a brew and were not disappointed by the delicious 'Moza'. Em shook her head in despair.
With Dave off to secure a new tyre in Guatemala City, Em and I wondered the town, enjoying the colourful buildings and colonial architecture.
Antigua Coke protector
Attractive as it was, Antigua was still a town, a town full of people. We sought somewhere quieter, so made for Lago de Atitlan, a caldera (collapsed volcanic cone) surrounded by three dominant volcanos. One of which we planned to climb.
With Em navigating us around the south of the lake, we enjoyed some fantastic winding roads, both through coffee plantations and pine trees.
Dave comes by on the dirt
Arriving in the small town of San Pedro La Laguna, we quickly found a place to stay, only to find we shared the hotel with a group of evangelists gathered for a wedding! Fearful our sleep would be sacrificed prior to our 5:30am ascent on Volcan San Pedro, we got to bed early. As it turned out, we needn't have worried about the evangelists, only the wailing baby next door!
San Pedro La Laguna
Dave and I enjoyed a brisk climb with guide Vincente up to the summit of Volcan San Pedro at 3020m. Unfortuantely it was overcast, therefore no view was to be had, but at the same time, made for a cooler climb. Em opted to look after base camp. Quite how she did this with her eyes closed and sound asleep, I'll never know!
What view? Volcan San Pedro - 3020m
The action didn't stop there. After lunch, we reunited with Em and hired a couple of kayaks for a paddle on the lake. Sleep came easily that night!
We woke to clear blue skies, perfect conditions for our ride into Mexico. Leaving behind the pristine waters of Lago de Atitlan, we wound our way through some spectacular scenery; the rolling hills and pine forests not dissimilar to parts of Europe.
Which way Dave?
By lunchtime we'd reached La Mesilla and the Mexican border. Time to say goodbye to Central America. Although it's been a fairly brief encounter, it's one we've enjoyed tremendously and an area we'd like to return to one day.
(Hame & Em)
Em's pics of the month:
Posted by Emma Myatt at May 18, 2008 11:44 PM GMT