Hopefully, they’ll just steal the phone. Just paid US$7.00 for a jar of peanut butter.
I always carry cable ties because you never know how a date will end.
We have travelled to many wonderful places over the last 6 months but there are few that I have loved as much as Granada. The city has everything including architecture on a grand scale.
With huge pedestrianised spaces where people hang out.
Beautiful, single storey, colourful houses.
And grander buildings with amazing details in the windows and doors.
And bell towers.
Even some art deco.
Away from the tourist area there is a lively and exciting, local vibe that reminds me of Cairo or India, where you don’t quite understand everything that is going on.
There is a languidness here that we have not experienced so far this trip. It is hot and the pace is slow. People are friendly and nothing is rushed. The day can just be spent hanging out in beautiful courtyards or wandering the streets, on the shady side of the road, of course.
It has not been all hanging out in cafes and courtyards although here has been a lot of that. Dave had a job interview while we were here. I also made huge progress with my thesis and have completed a first draft of my findings chapter and now have nearly 25,000 words. We have also started to plan our return to the UK, contacting shipping companies to send the bike back by sea. We still have many wonderful weeks left before then though.
We have had a wonderful and interesting week in Nicaragua. We left Leon for coffee country and spent a few days in the hills, riding on some good roads and one great road around Matagalpa, Estile and Jalapa.
Plus a few interesting dirt roads for brief periods.
And a couple of stretches on roads that have been block paved!
This part of the country is much cooler than the coast and it was the first time we have experienced perfect motorcycling weather for many weeks with a temperature of about 27 celsius and clear blue skies.
The volcanic nature of the country means the soil is very fertile. There are wonderful vegetables for sale everywhere. Vegetable photography seems to be my favourite subject after mountains.
This is the season for picking and processing coffee beans. I was surprised by how much of a cottage industry this is with very small processing plants and coffee beans drying on basketball courts and very other inch of available space in small villages. It is hard to see and photograph coffee growing from the bike as there are tall bushes along the road but the few plantations we saw were really beautiful with banana trees planted in between.Tobacco is also commonly grown here and you can visit cigar factories where they make the best cigars outside of Cuba.
The food and drink here is good. The national dish is Gallo Pinto a mix of rice fried with red beans and eaten as a substantial vegan breakfast with fried plantain and delicious home made corn tortillas and usually provided free by even the cheapest hotels.
The beer also comes in a litre bottle for $2 and is pretty good.
Northern Nicaragua is also famous as the birthplace of the Sandinistas who took power in a revolution in 1979 and were later involved in a civil war with the Contras who were financed by the US government to destabilise them due to their left leaning tendencies and ties with the USSR. We have seen both a plane and a tank left over from the war. These were much more exciting for Dave than for me as you can see.
This war was very high profile in the early 1980s and Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, was a household name, even in the UK. He has been back in power for the last 10 years and there are huge posters of him every where in the north.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere by GDP per head of the population but this does not tell the full story. As wealth is better distributed here than elsewhere (thanks to the left wing government) the country seems to be doing much better than you expect. It is a completely different experience to Honduras or even Guatemala. It is true that we have seen a lot more horse and bullock pulled carts here (usually a sign that people cannot afford anything else) but people are purposeful, there is plenty of agriculture and everywhere is clean and very well maintained.
Roads are good and people seem to be living fairly decent lives. It is also a much safer country than most in the region and we have seen very few guns.
We have been stopped by the police a lot but not in a way you would expect. In four or five stops we have not been booked and they have not tried to extract a bribe. They have checked our documents to make sure we own the bike and have insurance and they have warned us to ride safely (they do not like you overtaking lorries across the hard yellow line even though most roads have a hard yellow line). It is irritating to be stopped so often but hard to complain.
After coming down from the mountains two days ago, we spent two nights at a wonderful casita on a gated community near the capital Managua. Lying in a hammock yesterday evening watching hummingbird was a real highlight for me.
Dave had the chance to visit and befriend the Triumph dealer Frank and source some parts for the bike, some of which we have taken possession of and others that we will collect on the way back from Panama. The bike had its first wash in months.
During this time, I have written over 5,000 words of my thesis and I am really pleased it is going so well. I have also been able to keep up my new exercise regime of circuit training. We are both feeling relaxed and healthy.
We have now moved to Granada-another beautiful colonial town but I will write about that next time. Dave has a video interview for a job which he has to complete before we leave the hotel here. We then plan to cross into Costa Rica.
This is a great road from Matagalpa to Esteli in Niocaragua. It starts off with sweeping bends and great views and then finishes strangely with 30km of block paving. Why anyone would ever block pave an open road, I have no idea.
Apparently, there is an abandoned tank somewhere on the first stretch but we missed it. The tank is a legacy from the time when the USA wanted to help Nicaraguans gain the same wealth disparity as the USA and UK.
Hopefully, we will return the same way, find the tank, and I will play on it while Helen pretends to be uninterested. Girls.
We left Antigua on 2nd January early . It was a pretty quick and uneventful journey to the El Salvador border, passing under the El Fuego volcano on the way (this was to erupt, spewing lava 7km into the air later that night). You could see a bit of smoke coming out but nothing else.
The border was much easier than we anticipated. We chose a tramitador (helper with the border formalities) on the basis of his good looks alone. I am sure we were not the first.
He spoke no English but despite that we was helpful in navigating both sides of the border. We were through into El Salvador in about an hour and at our hotel by 1pm. This part of El Salvador is really hot and tropical, full of coconut palms and bananas.
The hotel was right on the beach. The beach was pretty dirty and the pool was full of loud, local families enjoying the last day of the holiday.
We ate in the restaurant and did not venture out. Better safe than sorry. The sunset was beautiful though.
The next day we woke to the sound of the ocean crashing outside the room. We lay in bed for few hours enjoying it.
It was an easy 3 hour ride to La Union near the Honduras border. They have built a deepwater port here for cruise ships and then no-one wanted to visit because there is nothing here.
The closest decent hotel was a Comfort Inn. We enjoyed the air conditioning and Wifi again ate in the restaurant. Uneventful, easy and safe. We prepared ourselves physically (organising paperwork) and mentally for the big journey across Honduras and into Nicaragua the next day. We managed to get up on time and left at 6.30am after a quick local breakfast of beans and fried plantain-yummy.
There was nothing on the road except cows and a few carts pulled by donkeys, oxen and goats (yes a cart pulled by goats).
We arrived at the Honduras border at 7.30. We expected queues of lorries and craziness but in fact we did not even realise we had reached the border as it was so quiet.
It was quite beautiful compared to what we experienced later in Honduras.
We were pounced upon by a bunch of guys wanting to “help” us and wanting to change money. We chose one who actually spoke English. He was either on meth or drank too much coffee. He turned out to be very helpful despite trying to scam us a couple of times, unsuccessfully.
Dave and the helper at immigration
He earned his money running in front of the bike to each section of the border. It was like having your own security detail.
Fortunately, we have detailed instructions written down on what to do at each border and how much each stage costs-thanks to previous overlanders sharing their experiences on the internet.
We were through both sides within an hour and a half and into Honduras. $40 dollars poorer for a temporary vehicle permit which we only needed for the two hour crossing.We have to pay the same on the way back.
The road to the border with Nicaragua is 80 miles and takes two hours to ride. We were told to expect 14 police checks. We only saw three. This part of Honduras is a wasteland. No agriculture, nothing happening. It reminded me of Malawi where there is abject poverty and people sit around all day doing nothing. Near the end of the road we came to a 10 mile stretch of very bad potholes. Dave was doing a great job negotiating them and just as they seemed to be over we encountered two spanning the whole width of our carriageway. We could not move over as a bus was coming so we had no choice but to go into them. It felt bad but we stayed on and the bike seemed unscathed, although we were a bit shaken.
At the Nicaragua border we employed two helpers. One on each side. Getting out of Honduras took only 20 minutes and the guy did not do much for his tip. On the Nicaragua side though it was much more involved with more queuing and the lovely, young guy who helped us did a great job.
We were into Nicaragua by Midday and very relieved to be there. It was instantly greener and we saw more volcanoes.
We rode to Leon and arrived just after 1pm. We were very hot, tired and dehydrated.
We actually managed to find a hostel that cooked Sri Lankan curries and tucked into a dahl and veg curry with chapatis and rice and cold beers. Now we can relax and enjoy the relative safety of Nicaragua.
- Joke shamelessly lifted from Performance Bikes c1990