May 27, 2011 GMT
Nicaragua

I thought the Honduran / Nicaraguan border at Las Manos on the Pan Americana Highway would be busy but I was through in an efficient hour, the quickest border crossing yet. The main time saver was not having to find the photocopy office and get documents copied as none were required, wonderful. I had been told I would need to find a guy selling the compulsory vehicle insurance who didn’t have an office and mingled with all the money changers and unofficial ‘helpers’ on the street inside the security barriers however he found me and ‘guided‘ me to the super efficient Honduran immigration and customs. My normal routine at border crossings is to find the first office, then ask the official there and at each subsequent office where the next office I need is until I eventually emerge from the bureaucracy in the new country without engaging the dubious assistance of the unofficial ‘helpers‘. This time I seem to have been adopted by one of the officials which is harder to get rid of and ‘help‘ was completely unnecessary as it wasn‘t difficult to locate each office in turn. He took my documents to complete the insurance certificate, charged $16US and keeping hold of all the documents led me to the Nicaraguan customs who needed to see the insurance certificate before processing the bike. He said I needed to pay $12US to customs which I gave him but don’t know whether this was legitimate or if the insurance guy pocketed the cash, I didn’t see him hand it over and suspect customs is supposed to be free. We then went to Nicaraguan immigration which was swift and genuinely costs C270 ($12US) although I handed over C300 and never got any change. Having completed all the formalities I finally got my insurance certificate, when I examined it later the official price of $12US was on the certificate so he overcharged me $4US and possibly took $12US for Nicaraguan Customs that didn’t need to be paid. He then had the cheek to ask for money for ‘helping’ me, I used my tried and tested routine of pretending I didn’t understand him, shook his hand and thanked him as I got on the bike to head off into Nicaragua.

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Pan American Highway

My first thoughts when thinking about Nicaragua were of the ‘Iran Contra Affair’, an inglorious period in the history of the USA. In the late 1980’s. Under President Ronald Reagan the U.S. government secretly sold weapons including over 15,000 missiles to Iran contravening their own arms embargo in an attempt to secure the release of American hostages held in Iran. Profits from the illegal arms sales were then used to support the Nicaraguan Contras despite the fact that Congress had passed a bill making the supply of funds to the Contras illegal. The Contra rebels were fighting against the Nicaraguan Somoza government with both sides accused of indiscriminate killing and torture. When the affair became public knowledge a number of US government officials were prosecuted and given jail sentences while others were awaiting trial but they were pardoned in 1992 by President George Bush and some were given new government jobs.

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Granada Central Park

The road to Granada, predominately on the Pan Americana Highway was good quality paved road the whole way and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to ride straight into the city centre without any heavy traffic to get caught up in. I located a street near the main central park (plaza) that I knew from an internet search had two hostels then spent an hour walking around until I found a hostel with free secure parking for the bike. I had the place to myself for the duration of my stay.

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Horse Drawn Carriages Awaiting Customers

Granada was hot and humid although once it rained heavily for twelve hours through the night bringing the temperature down sufficiently to get a better nights sleep. I awoke to a flooded room when rain had leaked through and run down a wall. This is the start of the wet season and I’m hoping it won’t interrupt my travelling too much.

Granada is reputed to be the oldest Spanish colonial city in the Americas having been founded in 1524 by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba who named Granada after his home town in Spain. As my hostel WiFi wasn’t working I occasionally treated myself to a meal in a restaurant with balcony tables on the first floor looking out over the colonial main square, the Plaza de la Independencia where I could also use the internet. From the main square it was a pleasant 25 minute stroll to Lake Nicaragua where there was a slightly run down park leading to a sandy beach.

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Granada Cathedral

Lake Nicaragua is the second largest lake in Latin America after Lake Titicaca which sits on the Peru / Bolivian border. The lake is connected to the Caribbean via the navigable San Juan River. Before the construction of the Panama canal ships would sail from the Caribbean into Lake Nicaragua where a stagecoach line would carry goods and passengers across the 20km (12.5 miles) strip of land to the Pacific Ocean where they could continue their voyage by ship. There was talk of building a canal here but Panama was eventually chosen although the subject of a Nicaraguan canal to compete with Panama arises from time to time.

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Black Sandy Beach, Lake Nicaragua

I looked into riding around the east side of lake Nicaragua on dirt roads to the small border crossing into Costa Rica at Los Chiles. This border crossing is normally only used by local foot passengers and involves a boat trip to the border. The boat is apparently big enough to take a motorbike but I was eventually dissuaded when I learnt that there is no vehicle insurance available at the border and you have to get a bus into town, get the insurance then return to the border to complete the paperwork and collect your motorbike. The only other border crossing into Costa Rica is on the busy Pan Americana Highway with reports that it is one of the slowest and most confusing borders in Central America, something I‘m not looking forward to.

The ride south on the Pan Americana Highway brought me alongside Lake Nicaragua for a while where I got a glimpse through the mist of Ometepe, a volcanic island rising out of the lake. Ometepe is formed by two volcanoes joined by a low isthmus. The symmetrical cone shaped Concepción volcano which forms the north of Ometepe last erupted in March 2010. This eruption was extremely violent with an ash cloud rising to 3000m (10,000ft); however few of the island's inhabitants heeded the order from the government in Managua to evacuate and as it turned out, no one was injured,

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Lake Nicaragua With Ometepe Lost In The Mist

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at May 27, 2011 06:12 PM GMT
 


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