Do you know the way to San Jose?

very pink bandstand with green stepsOur last morning in Rivas was spent shopping for food, and briefly exploring the town.  Negative first impressions of Rivas when we had passed through on our way to Ometepe, admittedly formed purely on an experience in the crowded and noisy bus station, were cast aside as the girls had a chance to look around.  It is a friendly, busy place with a very quirky and very pink Parque Central.  Market stalls line the streets where it is possible to buy anything and everything. The Lonely Planet suggested that with only two hours to visit Rivas, the museum was the place to go.  Unfortunately, we got there to find it was closed and was seemingly in a very bad state of repair; one whole wall was being reconstructed! Peeping through the windows it did look like there were some interesting exhibits but they will have to wait for another time!
large white church on the corner of the main square. tuktuks in the foreground
A few of us took advantage of tuktuk transport to get back to the hostel, made all the more exciting as the two drivers raced each other down the streets, cutting corners to overtake each other!
street in Rivas with men cleaning shoes sitting on the side of the road.  One man having his shoes cleaned, a bicycle propped against the kerb.I am always fascinated by the everyday lives of people and although I sometimes feel uncomfortable taking photographs of people I just can’t resist snapping scenes in the streets that capture what real life is like.  It is wonderful when sometimes the people spot me and wave and smile.  Rivas, just like Granada and Moyogalpa is multifaceted.  Initially you see the veneer, the commercial streets but if you head away from the main streets you find the little lanes that tell you so much more about how people live.  I loved the “shoe shine boys” sitting along the road as their clients sat on stools, the “auto motorbike and car wash” – a space where someone supplied water and sponges so you could wash your own motorcycle, and the men and women sitting in entrances of rooms repairing and creating garments on old treadle sewing machines.
Street in Rivas, bicycles propped against the kerb, woman, child and man in the foreground talking, two men sitting in the doorway to a house one sewing on a treadle sewing machine
Penas Blancas - the border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  A white and green building to the left, bare earth and phone towers. The rest of our day was spent travelling – another long wait for a bus that didn’t come at the appointed time but did eventually arrive and our first rain in ten days.  It came out of nowhere, bucketed down for about 15 minutes and then cleared away leaving us wet and steamy!  Crossing the border at Penas Blancas was uneventful. Off the bus on the Nicaragua side, hand over passports, back on the bus, drive through the 1km corridor of no man’s land, back off the bus with all bags to go through passport control and baggage scans to enter Costa Rica. Done!  Hola Costa Rica!
By now it was dark and scenery gazing was impossible so I slept!  Awoke to see the lights of a big city spread out as far as the eye could see.  Costa Rica only has a population of about 4.5 million, but the metropolitan area of San Jose accounts for more than a third of that.
Our hostel was basic but comfortable and we had an early start the next day so straight to bed!

Adios Nicaragua, Hola Costa Rica

Ferry port, very much a building site, a car in the foreground, signs and cones with barriers. In the background the volcano of ConcepcionWe were welcomed into Rivas by some very friendly taxi drivers.  Experience has taught me to be circumspect at the descending hordes of people offering taxis, buses, accommodation but sometimes you have to trust to instinct and these guys seemed genuine enough.  They assured us that the bus we had intended getting was not available; it had already left and there were no more that evening.  It was getting dark, and the thought of navigating the building site that was the San Jorge port with full packs and weary girls, to find a bus and then to negotiate a busy bus station and still have to get taxis to our hostel was rather daunting. twin monuments in a town square remembering the heroes of the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1970s.So we negotiated a price and off we set.  Our taxi driver proudly talked about Nicaragua and its people and he even showed us his house!  He also showed us where the Spanish conquistadores and Nicaraguans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1821.  A cross and a statue mark the point in the road.  He told us about how Christopher Columbus came in 1492 and the Spanish stole the land of the indigenous people and drove them out.  He was proud of how all the countries that were colonised by Spain have now achieved their independence and their freedom.  There is a real sense here of patriotism and pride in who they are; poor but free after the struggles they have had in the latter part of the 20th century. In the Parque Central there are statues of the people from the FSLN who were instrumental in overthrowing the dictator Somoza.  It has taken the country many years to get over the damage caused to the economy by Somoza and whilst the poverty here is clearly evident systems are in place and seem to be working.
The lady at the Hospedaje Lidia welcomed us in a much more friendly manner than the Señora in Ometepe but she was still quite dour! However, once the girls greeted her in Spanish and made efforts to communicate she relaxed and was much more chatty. We were ready to eat so headed out towards the Parque Central where our taxi driver had recommended a cheap place to eat local food. Drummers with large bass drums playing in a town square in the eveningAs we got closer we could hear the sound of drums and presumed it was some sort of procession – another bit of information from our taxi driver.  We have been hearing fireworks all the time we have been here and he said they are set off during the processions which are part of the nightly celebrations leading up to Christmas.   When we arrived at the square an area to the right was filled with drummers drumming all different types of drums, there were also trumpeters and percussionists.  On the stage a large group of girls were dancing to the beat.  It was fantastic to listen to and watch.  They threw the large bass drums over their heads and swirled them around without missing a beat! Each section played and then passed on to the next or accompanied each other.  It was totally mesmerising and we stood there for over half an hour. Gallo Pinto, a traditional Nicaraguan meal, plantain chips with rice and red beansThere seemed to be no sign of them finishing so we made our way to the restaurant which was actually at the corner of the square so we ate our delicious Gallo Pinto whilst still listening to the band.
To finish the evening off the girls danced to the very cheesy Christmas music playing from the bandstand in the Parque Central.  It is interesting how differently we behave when we know that the people who are watching us will never see us again!  It makes me think about how that idea plays out in an online environment where we can maintain a certain amount of anonymity or even re-invent ourselves completely.  Food for thought.

Back to the Mainland: Rivas and beyond

View of Volcano Concepcion with cloud rolling down its flanks. Agricultural building in the field in the foreground, blue sky.As we travelled round the island yesterday it made me think of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and the stories I have read based on those islands in the mid 1900s. The idea of new technology such as running water, electricity and telephones coming gradually to the communities starting with the main centres and spreading to outlying areas and how people integrate it into their traditional ways of life.  How some people are the forerunners, the pioneers and others watch either enviously or suspiciously how the technology impacts on lives until it is adopted by all.  Ometepe is like that; internet cafes rub shoulders with straw roofs and earth swept floors, mobile phones are ubiquitous but men ride horses and horses and oxen pull carts and cattle are driven down paved roads as motorbikes and buses overtake them.  street and buildings in Moyogalpa.  The buidlings are painted blue and yellow, young men sitting in the doorways of the shops, bicycles propped up outsideIt is shabby and run down but it is real life.  I feel that I have to be careful about being a patronising westerner when I reflect that there is a certain charm about that mixture of mid 1900s lifestyle and the 21st century technology.  It is easy to look on and think it is charming but would I really want to live in those conditions?  The taxi driver who brought us to our hotel in Rivas this evening told me, “Nicaragua is a great country. People are friendly and honest and we feel safe.  We are poor but we are free and we are happy.”  I can’t think of a better testament to a country than that.
crowded bus with lady selling plantain chips.  She is holding the bowl on one hand close to her shoulder.Today was a treat.  Packed up and ready to go by 9.00am to go to the beach by public transport.  We were clearly on island time because the scheduled 9.00am bus didn’t arrive until 9.45am!  It was another of those great experiences; you know the jokes that go “How many people can you fit in a mini?” Well the answer to how many people you can fit in a bus is “As many as need to get in and then more!” Hot and extremely sweaty, we were crammed into our seats and wondered how we were going to work out how to extricate ourselves when we needed to get off.  Fortunately, as my taxi driver said, the people are incredibly helpful and friendly.  There was no way that we were going to miss our stop as everyone pointed it out to us and we had noted that there was an efficient system in place to help people get out of the bus when they needed to.
orange kayak on beach and girls sitting on sun loungers, blue water of lake and blue sky. Charco Verde is basically a resort at a very pleasant bay.  There was also a walk around a lagoon or we could have visited the butterfly haven but we were happy in the heat just to relax in the water.  It is difficult to believe that we were at a lake and not a sea as it is so vast. Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca is the largest lake in Central America and legend has it that it was the home of man-eating bull sharks.  There is no doubt that there was a sizeable population of bull sharks but who knows if they had developed a taste for human blood!  We didn’t venture very deep into the water, just in case!
group of people waiting at the side of the road for a busComing back proved quite simple although I did have a few moments of unease when I wondered whether the bus I had been told would be at 1.30pm was going the back the way we had come or whether it was an orbital route and we needed to get on in the same direction we had in the morning and ride it right round the island!  My moments of panic were just after a bus going in that direction had gone past at the stated time.  Fortunately for me, (as I had visions of us all sitting on the side of the road for another hour) 5 minutes later the bus came.  It too was full and we stood for the the duration of the journey.  Going back seemed much quicker, probably because it was mainly downhill and we hurtled along at great speed, but also because there were fewer people getting ion and off. These buses also seem to be used as a way of delivering goods around the island as packages were dropped off and collected at each settlement.
Just enough time for a coffee at the Corner Cafe before getting the ferry back to San Jorge.
Concepcion with Moyogalpa in the foreground as the ferry leaves port.We enjoyed our time on Ometepe and watched Concepcion get smaller as we sailed away, very proud of our achievements at climbing her flanks as far as we did.
San Jorge at dusk was bustling – we had intended getting the bus to Rivas but it appeared (according to the taxi drivers who were clamouring for our custom!) that they stop running after 5.30pm.  It does seem strange given that the ferry comes in at that time and there will always be bus loads of people to transport.  Who knows what the truth is, but the taxi drivers offered us rides for $1 per person straight to the hostel which meant that we didn’t have the additional hassle (and probably another taxi ride) to get from the bus station.

Day 7: Public Buses and a Ferry ride in Nicaragua

20141216_072848 red and white public service bus in Granada,  Nicaragua An early start carrying our packs through Granada’s busy market – even at 7am it is bustling.  The bus station is at the bottom end of the market and as we approached a man came out asking if we were going to Rivas and guided us to the bus. We were excited to see that we would travel on one of the old rickety, 1950s old style school buses which have so much character.  We watched carefully as our bags were loaded on the roof and tied on tight and then climbed on board.  It was lucky we had arrived early to get a seat as the bus soon filled up with people and chickens! The man who had guided us to the bus turned out to be some sort of public announcement system; he stayed with us the whole way calling out the names of each stop and loading and unloading deliveries in different places.  During the two hour journey, more and more people piled on, squashed down the aisle, people selling plantain chips and nuts also climbed on, pushed through the crush of people and exited out the back.  It would certainly be a mission to get off at a stop so we were glad that we were going to a terminus station.
Yellow bus at Rivas bus stationRivas bus station was manic and some of the girls found it totally overwhelming and scary.  As soon as the bus pulled in, in fact, even before it stopped, people were jumping on offering taxis to San Jorge.  We had been told that “Eduardo” would be there to meet us so sat tight as the bus emptied.  Then a man tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the bus in front and said “San Jorge autobus” I started to say “No, gracias” when he said “Estais con Eduardo?” I said yes and he said that Eduardo had called him to meet us and make sure we got on the right bus.  I was unsure – my instinct now is to be circumspect but he assured me that he was telling the truth and since the bus was clearly marked and we would probably have got it anyway we climbed aboard and accepted his help.
travellers boarding a small car ferry. The weather is fine with blue sky. The travelers are carrying heavy back packs. Ten minutes later and apart from the splendid view of Ometepe’s two volcanoes in the distance we could have been at any short ferry terminal any where in the world. We could see Concepcion standing tall wearing it’s cap of cloud and it was difficult to believe that this was a lake and not a sea especially since the wind was causing quite big waves to lap the sides of the boat.l The crossing was was very pleasant – I love going on ferries especially when it is warm and I can sit as high up as possible and watch my destination getting closer – the promise of what is to come is delicious!
Two volcanoes seen across a lake. The one to the left taller than that to the right.
Moyogalpa is essentially a one street town but it is the biggest on the island and actually bigger than we had expected.  It is a bustling port with everything that goes with that; industry mixed with tourism and as soon as we landed the hawks descended.  They offered taxis, tours, accommodation but we had our accommodation sorted and only needed to walk a short way up the hill to the Hotelito Aly.
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What a strange little place! And it gets stranger the longer we stay here and interact with the owners who seem to own a fair chunk of the commercial outlets in the town!  As I already mentioned, we had expected Ometepe to be a small island with a couple of settlements, a few hostels and some food outlets.  So a bustling little town full of tourism was a bit of a surprise.  Ometepe was formed by the two volcanoes – Concepcion at 1600m is still active and vents every few years, Maderas at 1300m is inactive so the vegetation on  the two halves of the island is quite different.a view from a hotel balcony in Moyogalpa, Ometepe.  Tin roofs of buildings in the foreground lead to the majestic Volcan Concepcion with a cap of cloud on its summit in an otherwise blue sky
Anyway back to the hotel which has definitely seen better days, its cleanliness is of dubious quality, but it is a roof over our heads and a space to meet and I do have a fairly spectacular view from my balcony! Unusually for a Hispanic country everything shuts up shop at 5pm which makes shopping for supplies difficult when we go out early and are not back before 5pm.
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This evening we finally met up the elusive “Everywhere and nowhere man” Eduardo.  We are sure that he must be involved in some sort of covert operation under the guise of being the man who knows everyone and has a finger in every pie. It is clear that he has an agenda and that despite there being some element of choice for our trek on our World Challenge information sheets, in reality we were going to do what suited Eduardo! After some heated debate and it was “agreed” that we would climb Concepcion the following day.