Nicaragua Road Trip 1

So my laptop is stuffed.

I’ve found a Lenovo certified place in San Jose (thanks to the very kind Roberto, who is Costa Rican). I had the option of going up to San Jose today by bus or waiting until Monday when I would get a ride up with the people picking up the venturers. Talking to the shop it could take two weeks to get sorted, but I can make do until then. Better than not having anything I guess! All under warranty too..

This trip is teaching me to be patient!.

So anyway, my trip (Update! I’ve managed to get Lightroom running (very slowly) on one of the PCs here so it’s slow going and hard work bu I’ve now updated the phots to semi deent levels.).

Quite a long update sorry!.

I was swanning about on Sunday expecting to have 5 or 6 days of leisure, before the driver assigned to the Nicaraguan drive fell ill. I had about an hour to pack and get ready and then we were off! The group I was driving was heading up to the North of Nicaragua to do some reconnaissance for the Maribios Trek (Alpha 1, if you have a look at the post detailing the alpha groups).

So we headed out at about three PM. The important factor here is that we do not drive in the dark (the roads and drivers here are pretty terrible). It gets dark at about 5:30 generally, light from about 5 – that means about 12 and a half hours a day for moving about, getting things done and finding something to sleep. So anyway, our first stop was just north of San Jose, but we only got as far as the airport. We found a nice little hotel with a good room and three little poodles for the night. Cold water though! Dinner that night was recommended by our host – a ‘great Italian place’ a couple of blocks down. The setting was lovely – a nice little restaurant 1 story up looking out over the not lovely area (which really worked for me somehow). Everyone else foolishly ordered Pizza (I’ve probably not mentioned yet that Central American cheese is …… really terrible). The pizza were rated somewhere between awful and ‘I prefer that one’ – That was about the nicest anyone got. 2/5. I thought I was being clever ordering the ‘Frank Sinatra’ burger, which was fine, but not exactly great. The fries were really nice though. And the setting was lovely – a bit surreal sitting in a rather nice restaurant overlooking some pretty manky places with it pouring with rain outside and eating awful Italian food – it was actually pretty nice.

Next morning was a 4am wake up (as would be the case every day) to be on the road by first light (5am). We were headed north for the border and as far north as we could get on the Inter Americana. We got as far as San Ramone in Costa Rica before we hit traffic – a dead stop because of the road being closed due to a land slide.

About an hour later we were on our way through the mountains and we stopped for a loo break and breakfast(beans, rice, eggs and coffee, a recurring theme) at Soda El Cruce which was … fine.

We eventually hit the border, about 2 hours behind schedule (also a recurring theme – you learn to expect it. Did I mention my patience being slowly improved?).

A quick note on the Inter Americana – it is full of massive trucks and very very very few passing lanes. This means that you will often be driving along and see your lane being blocked by trucks hurtling your way at ~100kph. The best policy is generally to slow down, as they don’t usually care too much about having enough space to pass safely. You also need to pass a lot of trucks yourself – 20kph is just not going to allow you to get anywhere within the times you need to. The good news is that my gear changes are pretty damned good now!

The border was fine – a ton of paper work and no real structure with everything happening at the pace at which everyone is accustomed. We had a checklist of things that needed completing and a fluent Spanish speaker which both helped greatly. The crossing took about 2 hours and we were once again on our way – in Nicaragua! After a few kms of flat grassy land you come alongside the giant lake (you will see it on the map). IN the middle are two MASSIVE very volcano shaped volcanos. We pulled up alongside a wind farm with the volcanos in the distance and ate our tinned beans for lunch. Magic.

We kept of driving north, got off the Inter Americana and cut across, south of Managua (the capital) before rejoining the Inter Americana continuing north towards Estele.

Due to delays and the fact that the times provided are fairly optimistic we never got quiet as far as Estele and had to stop somewhere randomly as it had gotten quite gloomy. The area we were in was absolutely beautiful though, and the sunset was just amazing. We found a hotel in a little town which was very basic, but also very cheap and was quite frankly good enough. We cooked dinner (macaroni cheese.. kind of) on our Trangier (special camping stove thing) as there were no food places nearby and had an early night.

The next morning we headed out a few minutes before sunrise as we had a lot to do – meet some people, look at some rivers, plan some parts of the trek, etc, etc. We needed to head from Estele west to El Sauce so headed across the most direct route. About half an hour in we came to a halt – big backup of trucks. Walked up to the front and there was a big section of road that was in a terrible state with a truck stuck, blocking half the road. The ruts were very deep and there were a lot of big trucks that were going to cross before we would. Along with that was absolute chaos – people just do whatever they want here, and several trucks (BIG trucks) got stuck/made it that much worse,so after some discussion and a call or two to field base we decided to turn back. The major issue was that we knew the normal route was out of service – similar issue.

The only other route was a complete unknown, but it was our only choice! In the end it was quite lovely. We eventually made it to El Sauce to meet up with someone who will give all the venturers somewhere to sleep for the night when the trek passes through.

After that it was off to look at a river crossing – the last time they tried it was too fast and deep to cross. This meant doubling back 7km – something that we wish to avoid!

The road to the river was decent, until one point. We got out and had a look and there seemed to be a good route through, so off we went. We got about 2m in before I got us well stuck. Long story short, one big rock at the front, one big rock behind the front right wheel, both left wheels having no traction as the chassis had bottomed out on the rock hard clay (which was full of rocks). 2 Hours (and some chunks of fingernails) later I dug us out (with the kind assistance of some local men). I was literally head to toe in mud, but it was gratifying because I managed to get us out at least. We decided that we could not get to the river crossing, so turned around, the other driver driving.

600m down the road and a stall in some mud meant we were stuck, again, barely 10 minutes after we got it out of the first one. We dug and dug some more, but everyone was tired and my fingers could take no more, so we left it for the night, planning on getting a vehicle the next morning.

We set up the tents, ate some beans, cleaned up our wounds as best we could and sat lying under the stars (it was very dark out there) and watching the fireflys flutter about – I couldn’t really have been happier. At one point a man wandered by, had a poke around the car and announced that he would be back in an hour to get us out. We didn’t complain, and after some more star gazing (I saw a shooting star, but no satellites) he turned up with his younger friend (who I was informed was quite cute) and they hooked up a hand winch to a tree and spun the shit out of the tires until we dug ourselves out.

Hallelujah, we could rest easy that night. It was bloody hot though when I tried to get to sleep and the ground was very hard and bumpy – I probably slept about 2 hours that night.

The next morning I got a sleep in till 5am as the 3 non drivers decided that they would walk the 3km to the river crossing while we packed up the tents and got everything into the car. It was a beautiful morning in the fog and dappled light, watching the cowboys wander on by on their way to wherever.

At this point we had 2 days to get back to field base. This meant a drive as far south as possible, but not after checking out another river crossing nearby.

No dramas there, and we were soon heading south again, homeward bound. Our target was a beach resort about an hour north of the border. It was again a beautiful drive, this time driving past Managua and stopping at the car wash to get the land rover cleaned up.

The service station also sold ice creams and 3L bottles of fresca, which I can assure you we all enjoyed. It was VERY hot. Behind the service station was a massive volcanic crater/lake with hundreds of vultures circling and riding the thermals on – I wish the light was better but it was quite amazing to say the least. Once we were all cleaned up we carried on on our way.

We never got to our beach resort, instead opting to stop on the lake side – a decent hotel near the water.

I spent about an hour in the shower, washing myself, my shoes and other various things that had gotten muddy. We had dinner at perhaps the diviest place I’ve ever eaten. As you walk in there are bare lights hanging with literally thousands of little bugs (miggies) flying around them. Not just that, but all over the ceilings and in large piles on the floor below. I can’t say it really bothered me though… I guess after a few days in Nicaragua my standards had lowered and after only a little complaining we found a nice dark corner and got some beers and ordered.I had fried chicken and fries (safe option!). Someone else ordered something random from the menu and when it arrived the looks on everyone’s faces and the silence it brought was worth a million dollars and will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Ask me when you see me in person and I might be able to explain. We then headed off to bed – up again at 4.

After packing the car and doing the usual checks I noticed that the power steering fluid was empty. The day before it was full. I topped it off and we headed out to the lake shore to watch the sun rise from behind the volcanos. The whole thing was a bit surreal and quite amazing. I then realised that what I thought was rain out on the lake was actually water being whipped up by at least 8 tornados spinning about, with one particularly well formed funnel. It’s pretty hard to describe the scene, but I guess you can imagine that it was quite special.

On the road again, we bolted for the border – we needed to be back in Turrialba before dark and our schedule had about an hour and a half of leeway in it, but from previous experience knew to expect delays. We got to the border just before it opened, so stopped for the usual beans and coffee (and some Oreos, as it was the medic’s (Cat) birthday) before getting through in under an hour. While waiting around, the group noticed some liquid under the car, and I confirmed that we were indeed leaking power steering fluid. I figured that at one point (when I was not driving :P ) I though the front left wheel had bottomed out, but now suspect that the power steering fluid sump got smashed a bit. We managed to use some rag and a lot of tape to at least slow it down, then bolted the 70km to the next big town where we were told it would take a day to fix. We decided that the leaking had slowed enough, bought another bottle of fluid and would check every hour and top it up. And we were off – the final stretch. I got us as far as San Jose after after getting stuck in traffic at San Ramone again (road works this time) for about an hourand we had lunch and stretched out legs at the restaurant by the airport. We didn’t really have the time, but I was stuffed and I think everyone needed a break. We hit San Jose at peak hour, and after getting a bit lost figured it out and made our way home, winding our way into filed base with the windows down, the theme song from Top Gun blazing and with stupid grins on our faces – just as it had gotten dark. Hi fives all round and straight to dinner.

Quite a trip!