September 09, 2006 GMT
Big Notes

One sits very still indeed when being approached by a large Nicaraguan gentleman wielding a cut-throat razor.

But he did a splendid job of defluffing my hair. I have to say it's absolutely NO FUN at all having a stinking cold in a temperature of 35 degrees in 95% humidity, but I pass the time but hunting for a bar which has not only gin but also tonic. One of my more difficult challenges so far.

Nicaragua is very different from Costa Rica. The first thing you notice is that it's much poorer, although the same pride is evident. I'm in Granada on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, and which is a beautiful if somewhat undermaintained colonial town. There's a wonderful market very reminiscent of the ones in the Middle East, and all the lady stall-holders wear frilly aprons. The Friday night rush-hour on the main drag consisted of a couple of cars, lots of bicycles and trail bikes, a couple of tuk-tuks (haven't seen any of those since Peru) and a few horse-drawn landau taxi sort of things. Like Costa Rica, everything starts and finishes early - the bar in the hotel was about ready to close at 10pm last night. I saw in the paper this morning that the government is changing the time zone on October 1st, which will save them an enormous amount of electricity. It was a bit strange coming north and west across a border but going one hour forward in time instead of backward.

The barman/waiter in my hotel is the spit of the chap in the Hotel Palmyra in Baalbek (in the Bekaa Valley so now probably rubble) although somewhat more cheerful. In common with many other places, The Old Dear is so hidden away that it may be difficult for me to find her again. I just hope the hotel staff remember where they made me stash her.

ATMs are a bit of a pain as they'll only let you have 500 córdobas at once, as a single almost unchangeable note, and worth about 15 quid. So you have to stand there and do three or four transactions to get enough to pay for things like fuel and hotels as you go. At least the magic holes are the insert-and-withdraw type so your card can't be swallowed whole.

The border was well-sorted, though. I had (and needed) a Mummy's Little Helper on the Costa Rican side, but the Nicaraguan side was all in one place with step-by-step instructions in both Spanish and English. And I was extremely chuffed when one of the officials asked if I was from somewhere in S America and was surprised when I said I was English. Apparently I speak decent-ish Spanish with a sort of Argentinian accent. Wow. Especially after Fabiola kept having a go at me about my awful Spanish. Having said that, everyone else on this continent reckons Chilean Spanish is unintelligible (so there). I've definitely found that as you come north, people seem to speak more clearly (if not more slowly), but that might just be familiarity on my part.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at September 09, 2006 09:41 PM GMT

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