Thursday, October 20, 2005

Nica (r) Agua

Hummingbird Pigs in Altagracia where were we? Oh yes, last time I posted I was getting ready to visit Arenal Volcano and the cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The volcano is really active, so you can't get too close and from the observation point you can actually see rocks tumbling down the sides from its almost constant eruptions. In Monteverde I had a blast swinging far above the treetops on a zipline on my Canopy Tour, a specialty of the region. The town is surrounded by thick forests, but unfortunately I didn't get to enjoy it because it rained torrentially almost the entire time I was there. The sound of pounding rain on the tin roof of my hotel was pleasant for about five minutes but by the end of two days it began to drive me crazy! I will definitely have to go back sometime in dry season to enjoy it properly. After Monteverde it was time to move northwards into Nicaragua. (Click on the hummingbird for photos from Arenal and Monteverde)

So far I absolutely love it here. I feel very safe and there are lots of tourists (including loads of Americans). My first stop was San Juan del Sur, a top surfing spot on the Pacific. I wanted to take some lessons and check out the beach; unfortunately I was foiled by the weather again! The rains had washed out the roads to the best beaches, and instead of hanging out in the small, quiet town hoping it would clear up, I joined Kelly and Jeff, from Alaska, and Jordan, from France, and we all went to Isla Ometepe, a large island on the freshwater Lago Nicaragua. For four days we saw plenty of water, but thankfully this time it wasn't falling from the sky. We kayaked, swam, hiked, walked, lounged in hammocks by the lakeside and enjoyed good food. Jeff and Kelly and I took a bone-crunching three-hour bus ride to the other side of the island where we were the only guests on the Estacion Biologica, a research facility which also rents out cabins. The bus ride was amazing! Buses here are usually retired US school buses, and this one had no cushions on the seats (or shocks, apparently). The roads are incredibly bad. I can't even describe how bouncy the ride was. Thanks to the kilometer markings on the road, I was able to time our progress, and found that we were averaging about 3.5 to 4 miles an hour!

Despite the pain, the ride was fun. We passed little houses amongst the banana trees, watched local people going about their business and got a feeling for life on the island. On the way back, we met Jordan again and we all decided to walk along the road and try to catch a ride instead of waiting for the bus. As it turned out, nobody passed us for a couple of hours so we just got the bus further down the road, but it was a pleasant ride (despite carrying our heavy backpacks in the stifling humidity!). All along the way people waved to us from their houses, kids shouted hello and everyone was smiling and extremely friendly. That's been the best part of Nicaragua so far. The Nicas are really welcoming and very nice. One amusing thing is that they sometimes use "adios" to mean hello, so the inevitable folks who try to speak English to me in the street sometimes shout out "bye bye!" as I walk past.

Yesterday I left the island with Jeff and Kelly and we came to Granada, a really pretty old colonial town with colorful buildings, lots of nice restaurants and a lively market. I'll be here for another day or two, then pass through the capital on the way north, hoping to have better luck at my next attempt to hit the beach.

(Click on the pigs for photos from Isla Ometepe).