Friday, February 29, 2008

Trinket Castle and the Hammock District

Market town Masaya rides on the back of all kinds of tourist knick-knacks. Apparently most of the souvenirs in Central America are made there, and there is an entire city block bordered by faux-colonial turreted walls that enclose an extensive tourist market stocking hammocks, bright clothes and pairs of dead toads taxidermically posed in compromising positions. After browsing the markets, whose best stock came from Guatemala, we spent the afternoon wandering the hammock district, a section of town filled with hammock workshops. The workshops were actually people’s homes, and the showrooms were the living rooms, which meant that while you were browsing, Grandma would be sitting there knitting trim for hammocks, the kids would be watching cartoons and the sound of the weaving machine could be heard from the spare bedroom.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Museo San Francisco

This musuem is a cute collection of random artifacts, artworks and displays housed in a building far too large.

These are papier-mache people performing a kind of game played by the indigenous people around the area of Granada. Disturbingly, they don't have faces, and they hang stiffly in a featureless beige room like Francis Bacon paintings caught in 3-D.

Little Granada from above


The convent

Granada is another Latin American city (although it really should just be called a large town) that erupts colour- primary, pastel and earth hues juxtaposed in charming and random combinations. The mash of brightness makes the Australian obsession with grey, beige and brickwork look very dull indeed.

The waterfront (this is Lake Nicaragua) was not so Technicolor-ed

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Leaving Ometepe

It was hard, but we finally left Ometepe to go and explore some other parts of Nicaragua...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hacienda Merida

The danger of staying in a place that houses you, feeds you and has stunning views from the bank of hammocks is that you may never leave. It’s all very easy and holiday-like at Hacienda Merida, where the bell rings for organic buffet dinner every night at seven and there’s not much to do other than sit around and order the odd meal from the best kitchen we’ve eaten from in ages. In this environment, the littlest decision becomes a major dilemma. The question of leaving the hammock to grab a book, or go swimming in the lake takes up half an hour of sun-stunted thinking time, weighing up other options such as ‘maybe I will just stay here’ or ‘perhaps I may go swimming later’. It’s tough, really tough.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Playa Santa Domingo in the Day

This is as close to sunrise as we got

Breakfast stealing birds. These are just like seagulls, only prettier

Breakfast with Winnie the Pooh

Angie in the Ojo del Agua


Monday, February 11, 2008


The island of Ometepe is made up of to volcanoes connected by a thin strip of land. It sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, surrounded, apparently, by the world's only freshwater sharks.

Mobile home

Chicken Bus

Most Central American busses are grumpy ex-US school busses, torn from retirement, and they are far less comfortable than most of their South American counterparts.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Turtle Rescue!!!

One thing many people love in Nicaragua is eating the eggs of endangered turtles. Playa Majagual is a nesting site for the mums of these eggs, and one man in who lives in the area watches for a laying turtle, then goes and digs up the eggs and reburies on private property (the sandy front yard of our hotel). He does this so nobody can get to them and the baby turtles and they get to have a decent chance at life. We were staying in hatching season, which meant every now and then a confused baby turtle would be found wandering around some part of the grounds, needing to be directed toward the water. This is where Angie came in. She spent many hours diligently searching under bushes for lost turtles before running them down to the water’s edge and sending them off into the sea. It was her favourite part of the trip so far.


Playa Majagual

This is our ten-dollar-a-night missing link between hotel room and doghouse

The quirks of an elderly, seemingly vindictive, guidebook had us searching for a backpacker resort that no longer existed, and we ended up staying in a cute, but overpriced mini-cell. A beach lay nearby, which apparently had the best waves in Southern Nicaragua. It turned out to be one of the most dangerous places to surf I have ever been, not because of any natural hazards but because every American or European who wants to learn to surf splashes around there on insanely sharp boards. As I narrowly avoided losing an eye for the second time in one session, I decided to go in early.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

San Jose

We stuffed our four backpacks into the back of a taxi and directed our driver to the hostel. His appearance screamed ‘shifty’ but he agreed to take us for a good price. As his silver ringed fingers wheeled us around town, a ‘helpful’ suggestion dribbled from below his thick black moustache; “Let’s just ring them first and make sure they’re not full”. We pulled over, and his hairy sausages mashed in the number. “Not working” he said after putting the phone up to his ear. He ‘tried’ the number again; this time there was someone on the other end. “Pangea Hostel?” he asked, then handed the mobile to Paul, so Paul could ask about a room- and so we could know he wasn’t just going to lie and tell us they were full. Taxi drivers earn commissions by taking tourists to certain hotels, and this was a show of honesty on his part so that we could be sure he wasn’t trying to scam us into staying to his Cousin’s Crappy Hostel. “We’re full” came the answer, followed by a round of raised eyebrows on our part- just a feeling we all got. Paul checked the last dialled numbers, and noting that the number he had just been talking to be different to the advertised one of our hostel, tried the hostel number again. This time he got a new person on the other end, and it turned out that there were plenty of beds available. The driver had someone, somewhere, who he called and would then pose as staff, regretfully informing the caller that their chosen hotel was full- maybe your taxi driver knows somewhere? (and changing the destination of the cab means hiking up the price, too). Realising he had been caught, our driver turned up the stereo, stared straight ahead and didn’t make any other ‘helpful’ suggestions, or indeed, say another word for the entire trip.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The High Cost of Costa Rica

Budget buster Costa Rica flexed its financial muscle all over us when we went out to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday. A simple meal of pizza, beer and salad netted the establishment $60 in Oz money, including over $12 in taxes and other shifty add-ons (that really is massive given our budget for this part of the world). With our wallets smarting from the sudden weight loss, we planned a quick getaway into waters more forgiving of travellers who aren’t moneyed Californians on two-week sojourns between i-mergers. Onto Nicaragua, and quick!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Panama Borders Suck

This border, which closes at one o'clock for lunch, is also used by trucks. One at a time

Rather than the usual dangers at border crossings, such as shady money changers, dodgy taxi drivers, corrupt officials and opportunistic conmen, the ultra-tame Punta Blanca border between Costa Rica and Panama featured only one hazard: the bridge that links the two nations. Seeing as the bridge is in no-mans land, it seems no man wants responsibility for it, and it has thus rusted and rotted into a dilapidated span of steel and wood with conveniently human-sized holes along the entire length of the floor. We cautiously walked across the planks (that surely were once makeshift), the river waiting twenty metres below should the seemingly autonomous oversized backpacks we carry should decide to overbalance us. After carefully dodging oncoming ricesack lugging locals and colossal old women, we stepped foot into Costa Rica, our exit from Panama almost as dangerous as our entry.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Carnaval Panama

Modify the spelling of the word ‘carnival’ into something slightly exotic sounding and all of a sudden it begins conjuring up all sorts of debauched imagery involving sparkly, revealing costumes, enormous street parties and all kinds of delicious, unsavoury phenomena. When we found out Panama’s Carnarval was coming up, we decided to stick around in the densely touristed Bocas del Toro, where, no doubt, there would be some pretty crazy celebrations going on.

The weekend rolled around, and the covetous fantasy of Carnaval went largely unfulfilled. It seemed mainly an excuse for people to gather in the park and drink, while the children were sprayed by water from a firehose all to the sound of some extremely loud, often extremely bad, continuous music spewing from a massive PA just metres from our dorm room. I ate some bad cheese from a broken refrigerator and spent the main night of the celebrations freezing in bed while simultaneously sweating a river.

There were a few feathery ensembles, and a bit of dancing, but the most interesting part of the weekend involved some monster costumes, whips, some anger and lots of pain. I still don’t entirely understand the reasoning, but near the end of the weekend, a ring of people formed on the main street, and inside that ring there were around eight men dressed in black and red costumes brandishing sticks the length of their arms with an equal amount of rope attached to one end. The monsters would stalk around the crowd, occasionally threatening onlookers with a beating, and every so often a man or teenager would burst from the crowd and run around, while the monsters viciously and unmercifully whipped at the guys legs. The only protection the intruder had was a stick, which he would place in front of his legs, hoping to catch the nasty end of the whip there. Most of the time it worked- when it didn’t, there were painful, nasty (sometimes bloody) looking results. I think it was ‘all in good fun’, but from the looks on some of these guys faces, there was some serious venting going on.