A very long day......
02/28/2015 35 °C
February 27, 2015
Coco is a beautiful place at 5 a.m. Quiet, lots of stars. The temperature could be described as ‘soft’ . While standing by the front gate in the dark, we were hoping to be picked up to start our whirlwind tour Nicaragua for the day. Sure enough the van arrived and as the sky gradually lightened we were off to join about 40 other people for a quick breakfast and on with the adventure.
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordering Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The population of Nicaragua, approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Since its independence from Spain in 1821, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship, and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Today Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic, and has experienced economic growth and political stability in recent years.
Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest being the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during the 20th century. The communist Sandinistas took power in July 1979. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to help the contra rebels with funding, armaments, and training. The contras operated out of camps in Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. They engaged in a systematic campaign of terror and brutality to disrupt social reform projects. After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back them by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the contras (the Iran–Contra affair). They have been general elections since 1990. Nicaragua had seen positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade, and it became the country’s largest industry by 2007.
But Nicaragua is a very poor country with much of the businesses owned by one family and/or friends of President Ortega. The differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica were evident as soon as we crossed the border…no easy task.
The border is about 2 hours from Playas Del Coco on the Pan American Highway including a stretch under construction that results in serious traffic congestion. The drive is through low scrub with the occasional small farm with very tough looking cattle. When we get about 1 km. to the border we start to notice trucks and semi-trailers lined up. Apparently they sometimes have to wait there for days. Getting through the border for us, is a 3 step process. First, give the first of two forms we'd filled out, to the lady and get the blue stamp that says we’ve paid the exit tax, then over to get the outside of the bus fumigated (we must have looked good as we got waved through), then the guide took all our passports and the second form somewhere while we mingled around the Nicaraguan vendors and money exchangers that were waiting for us. First difference from Costa Rica…the crafts, leather, weavings, pottery, were more colourful and local. Standing around, an hour later our guide comes back with a border offical who calls out our names in his accented English and hands us our passports as we get back on the bus. One more inspection…an official comes on the bus to make sure we all look healthy and don’t have Ebola. We’re in!
The road goes along the shore of the Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central American (with it’s very own freshwater sharks) very picturesque with two volcanoes on the other side. Very dry, small trees and scrub, lots more skinny cows. Horses are now being used for transportation. Standing out amongst this poor rural landscape are great towering, modern windmills making use of the wind off the lake.
We drive to the city of Masaya and a lookout over a beautiful crater lake and then to lunch in one of the town markets with a bit of time for shopping. Another difference from what we’ve seen in CR, the towns seem older, more colonial, more liked Mexico or Cuba.
After lunch we head up to another crater at the Masaya volcano in the National Park. We drive up through lava fields right to the rim of this huge crater. Surprisingly, the only visitors there. This is an active volcano, erupting last a few years ago. Clouds of fumes, which Fred gags on, occasionally clear revealing the deep pit below. It’s an eerie, fascinating place but we are only allowed to stay 10 minutes so as not to breathe to much sulfur and it’s back to the bus.
On to some fresh air…we head to Granada, a beautiful old colonial town that sits on the Lake Nicaragua, jump into tourist boats and go for a ride through a number of islands close to shore and over to one that is the home of 4 monkeys. The monkeys are fed primarily by tourists, quite well apparently. They come over to our boat to get some melons (not really into bananas).
Back to Granada for a wander around their zocalo with food and tourist vendors, horse drawn carriages, and families enjoying the end of the day. Government offices on one side, massive church on the other, not something we saw so much in CR.
We’re running quite late because one of the group didn’t return to the bus as planned and they had to go and find her. Back to the bus, fill in two more forms, back to the border, Ebola check, hand over passport and form, guide disappears for 45 minutes, off the bus, official gives passport back, back on the bus, off the bus, hand in 2nd form and get blue stamp, back on the bus, get fumigated, past all the trucks and the long drive home. Back at our condo at 10:45 p.m. in the quiet, soft air. An excellent adventure.