A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: hawkers2013

The spectacular Caribbean coast of Colombia

sunny 33 °C

Anticipation was high arriving into Colombia. Everyone we’d met who had been there LOVED it.
And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Cartagena
Cartagena was a beautiful city, well the old town where most tourists congregate anyway. My door obsession began here, the colonial architecture was just beautiful and lovingly maintained with bougainvillea sprouting from the balconies. The night life was certainly buzzing too, didn’t matter what night of the week it was the streets were packed with people – both locals and tourists. Many people tended to congregate in the local squares, buying beers & street food from roaming sellers and enjoying the lively people watching. And for those of you wondering, cocaine was aplenty. Literally every man and his dog was offering it for sale. Chewing gum vendors would offer gum, then make a snorting gesture for the other things they had on offer.

large_DSCF1648.jpg

large_DSCF1652.jpg

large_DSCF1659.jpg

Roaming beer seller
large_DSCF1651.jpg

large_DSCF1661.jpg

large_DSCF1668.jpg

We had a final night out with all our new boat buddies, then we split up and headed in our own directions.

Santa Marta
We headed east along the Caribbean coast to the city of Santa Marta where we stayed in the nicest hostel of the trip, Masaya. Definitely more exy ($20 each in a 4 bed dorm with private bathroom), but it was sparkling & new, had 2 pools, a rooftop kitchen and bar, pool table, cinema room, you name it. I guess it was more like a hotel than a hostel. And the air conditioning was certainly appreciated as it was stinking hot & humid.

Santa Marta is a common tourist spot for those heading onto the famous Tayrona National Park. We left our luggage with the hostel and set off to the park with small backpacks. To reach the park you take a local bus to the entrance (about an hour or so) and from there it is all on foot to the various campgrounds. It’s a decent hike in scorching heat, but luckily most was in shaded jungle areas. We opted for the first campsite in Arrecifes about an hour in as it had great reviews. Most continue on another 40 minutes to the famous Cabo San Juan beach, although for 300 beds (either a hammock or a tent) there are only 5 toilets & showers.

Our campsite
large_DSCF1682.jpg

The beach near our campsite is well known for its treacherous currents, with loads of people drowning. For that reason it’s now illegal to swim there, with security constantly patrolling up and down the beach. So the next morning we headed off to Cabo San Juan for a dip. It was a beautiful walk through the jungle and we encountered some cheeky monkeys craftily spinning coconuts until they’d drop to the ground and (hopefully) crack open for them to eat.

The beach was predominantly lined with Argentinian tourists (Colombia is their current hotspot destination), and many enviable bottoms in g-strings!

large_DSCF1690.jpg

large_DSCF1691.jpg

large_DSCF1694.jpg

large_DSCF1699.jpg

In general everything in the park is pretty expensive as it’s all carted in on horse/donkey, and food is pretty basic. The accommodation was a bargain though - we got a big tent with thick sleeping mats for a delightful $6 each.

After 2 nights we headed back to Santa Marta to meet up with some mates and plan a crazy day at the famous Barranquilla Mardi Gras Carnaval.

Barranquilla Carnaval

Second to Brazil’s Carnaval in terms of size (although a lot less glamour!), the whole country descends on this dry, hot industrial city on the coast to drink, dance & spray each other with foam. We formed a group of 10 with new friends from the hostel and arranged a private shuttle to take us there and back on the same day – about an hours drive from Santa Marta. To get a good view of the parade we paid about $10 each to get into a stadium, which included lunch and a few beers. The Chileans with us were certainly handy with the negotiations! The parade wasn’t overly spectacular in terms of grand floats, but they made up for it with effort & an array of interesting costumes. Apparently the opening day had a bit more eye candy with local celebrities part of the parade. It was scorching hot, and many of the participants actually came over to us begging for a drink.

large_IMG_5542.jpg

large_IMG_5541.jpg

large_IMG_5543.jpg

The box of horrors. Truly horrifying.
large_IMG_5513.jpg

No words
large_IMG_5544.jpg

She's balancing a bottle of aguardient on her head
large_IMG_5546.jpg

large_IMG_5545.jpg

Never one to say no to a dance
large_IMG_5547.jpg

The highlight of the day was the street party we stumbled upon that night. An awesome mix of locals and tourists getting their salsa on, music pumping from every house, aguardiente flowing (the local Colombian anise flavoured spirit) and foam fights galore.

Posted by hawkers2013 15:28 Archived in Colombia Tagged buildings beach carnaval party colombia cartagena tayrona santa_marta barranquilla cocaine Comments (1)

Panama City and sailing the Darien Gap to Colombia

sunny

The plan from the beginning for Panama was to hightail it to Panama City where we could take a small dose of a first world city (think nice restaurants and big shopping malls) before setting sail on our planned crossing to Colombia.
Our entry into Panama was a breeze, except for the crossing of a long and decrepit railway bridge. It was a long drop and the walkway was made of old, unfastened railway sleepers. Amber was unimpressed. Once across, the immigration process was a snack and we began our scenic, but otherwise uneventful journey south to Panama City.

large_IMG_5255.jpg

large_DSCF1451.jpg

We had chosen to stay at the large Luna’s Castle Hostel in the Casco Viejo part of Panama City. It was a beautiful area that has recently begun a vigorous rejuvenation after years of being a slum that was riddled with crime. Gorgeous colonial architecture abounds, with some fantastic looking hotels, bars and restaurants, all interspersed with ruinous, un-renovated originals.

large_DSCF1443.jpg

large_DSCF1493.jpg

large_DSCF1489.jpg

large_DSCF1488.jpg

Around a 10 minute walk from our hostel takes you to Panama City’s famous fish markets, where you can choose from a vast number of stalls selling freshly prepared ceviche and fried fish. It was cheap and delicious, washed down with a cold beer.

large_DSCF1456.jpg

large_DSCF1458.jpg

large_DSCF1460.jpg

A box we needed to tick was a visit to one of the City’s large, world class shopping malls as we both had various items of clothing that needed replacing and we needed rain jackets for our intended hike in Peru. It was an easy way to kill a day, roaming those giant halls of consumerism. One could easily forget you were in Central America…

A visit to Panama City would not be complete without a visit to the Panama Canal. The Miraflores lock, only a short cab ride away, has a fantastic museum and large viewing platforms from where to watch the passage of ships.
The museum did a great job on the history of the canal, its construction and the economic benefits it has brought to Panama. It was pretty spectacular seeing a giant container ship pass through the lock too.

large_DSCF1474.jpg

large_DSCF1482.jpg

Any opportunity for Amber to play Candy Crush
large_DSCF1466.jpg

As those travellers planning to cross from Central into South America in the cheapest way will quickly realize, the land crossing through the Darien Gap at the very bottom of the Central American Isthmus is practically impossible. Geographically you read that it is impassable mountains, jungles and swamps. Politically, it is the wild, wild west, or worse.

----I keep an eye on the smarttraveller.gov.au website for specific country’s travel advice and very rarely does the Australian Government flat out recommend “DO NOT TRAVEL”. The Darien Gap is one of these places.
So your options are basically to fly across (generally expensive) or to book passage on a private yacht that sails the Caribbean to Cartagena, Colombia. We opted for this. -----

We heavily researched what boat we wanted to take as there are some true horror stories out there for crappy food and just plain negligence, and taking into account what dates we roughly wanted to depart, we settled on the African Queen. It was a 40t catamaran with space for 10 guests, skippered by an Italian and crewed by his Colombian girlfriend. The group we’d be sharing the voyage with consisted of three Argentinian lads, a Canadian girl, a German girl, a Dutch guy and another Australian couple. They were all fantastic and everyone got along great.

The African Queen
large_DSCF1499.jpg

We were collected from our hostel in the wee hours where, bundled bleary eyed into a 4x4, we were to be taken to the coast to meet the boat roughly 2-3hrs away. The itinerary was to spend 3 nights in the San Blas islands before making the 24hr open water crossing to Cartagena, on the north coast of Colombia.
The San Blas islands are a group of 378 islands, of which only 49 are inhabited, and are apart of an autonomous region controlled by the Kuna Indian people. Many of the islands contain a single family, with their income coming from tourism (pay to dock), fishing and coconuts. It was a truly beautiful area, with the stereotypical picture perfect island views.

large_IMG_5333.jpg

We motored around to various islands, swam, snorkeled and lay around on the boat getting to know one another better. It was bliss. One afternoon, Rudy, our Captain, took off on the launch with his scuba gear only to return an hour later with catch of huge lobsters and crabs, which made for a delicious lunch and dinner.

large_DSCF1531.jpg

large_DSCF1535.jpg

Crabs for sale
large_DSCF1530.jpg

All of us were completely blown away by the quality of the food on board. Rudy, being Italian, and his girlfriend really understood balance and flavor and it showed in all of the meals. Nothing too complicated but seriously delicious and fresh seafood pastas. Our last night in San Blas was spent on an island no bigger than a soccer pitch, where two families, a bar and a beach volleyball court existed. Drinking beer (albeit warm), playing volleyball with the family and a bonfire was a great way to end the day.

large_DSCF1507.jpg

large_DSCF1516.jpg

large_DSCF1517.jpg

Due to it being the windy season, Rudy changed the itinerary slightly, leaving San Blas a day earlier and stopping the night in the shelter of the Colombian islands of San Bernardo. He assured us it would be easier on everyone and the boat, rather than bashing up wind and heading direct to Cartagena. Once out of the shelter of the San Blas islands it became evident to all that the crossing was going to be rough regardless. The seas were at least 3m with the odd wave that really made the boat seem small. The front deck was off limits and all of the portholes were closed. Seasickness set in quite quickly for some but as Amber and I had been popping Dramamine, we managed to sleep in 4-hour chunks and avoid any bucket time. This also made the time pass rather quickly, which was perfect. The crossing was not uneventful though as during our dinner service, with the boat pitching and tossing and trying to keep plates and cups from sliding away, a huge wave broke over the bow, rushed up the cabin roof and poured into our dining area on the aft deck. Within an instant everyone’s plates were washed clean and all were soaked through. Some even had their smartphone ruined from the soaking. The funniest part was Rudy and his girlfriend giggling, as they were high and dry in the galley cooking and serving. In the many years he has been making this crossing, never has a wave made it that far aft in the boat. Lucky us.

A pod of dolphins paid us a visit
large_IMG_5369.jpg

We awoke early the next morning to find the boat at anchor in the shelter of the picture perfect Isla Mucura of the Archipelago de San Bernardo, with the water glass calm. We were now in Colombia!

large_DSCF1562.jpg

large_DSCF1555.jpg

The Smokers
large_DSCF1565.jpg

large_DSCF1567.jpg

large_DSCF1583.jpg

Another idyllic day of snorkeling and sun bathing, along with a land visit to a colorful community. That night Rudy got everyone into carnival spirit and we had a great night partying under the stars, cranking the music on the boat, drinking rum cocktails.

large_DSCF1588.jpg

Rudy in Carnaval spirit
large_DSCF1598.jpg

The Argentinian boys
large_DSCF1601.jpg

large_DSCF1637.jpg

The following day was a simple motor/sail up the coast to our destination, Cartagena, with a stop to explore the Rosario Islands. Some of these beautiful islands were home to some spectacular holiday houses, owned by the rich and famous, and also home to ruinous, discarded mansions once the possessions of drug cartel figures. As we motored into Cartagena, it was cool to see all of the fortifications still standing from Spanish colonial times, for protection against pirates and raiding armadas. Once in port, Rudy disappeared with all of our passports to deliver them to his immigration representative. We were given a meeting time the next day to go and collect them.
And thus ended our sailing trip. It was everything we had hoped it would be and then some. We were really fortunate to have shared the trip with such a wonderful group of fellow travellers, and have found such a great boat with Rudy as our skipper.

Posted by hawkers2013 14:48 Tagged islands ocean beach sand sail caribbean boat_trip darien_gap panama_to_colombia fresh_fish Comments (1)

Reminiscing in Costa Rica

sunny 30 °C

Costa Rica was a bit of a blast from the past for me. Having spent 5 months there on exchange when I was 18, the prospect of reliving the adventure was certainly exciting. As was showing Brendan around some of the old haunts he’d heard so much about.

It’s well known along the gringo trail that Costa Rica is the most expensive country in central America. And having tightened the strings on our budget, we were realistic about how much time we could spend there. So we opted to just pick a couple of places to visit as we made our way down to Panama.

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Taking up only 0.03% of the world's surface, it contains nearly 6% of the world's biodiversity. And 25% of the country is in fact protected national parks – the largest percentage in the world for a country. It was clearly evident too particularly as we bussed down the incredibly beautiful country. Where Nicaragua had seemed somewhat dry at times (and definitely less developed), Costa Rica was bursting with lush green, mountainous landscapes. This made our first stop a no brainer – to the mystical cloud forest of Monteverde.

We took a guided tour into the cloud forest on our first day, and opted for the Spanish speaking group in order to put our Spanish to the test. It went surprisingly well, it’s pretty amazing how much you can understand piecing together words you know mixed with body language. As we were about to start the tour there was suddenly a load of commotion and probably 50 oldies with their guides, decked out with binoculars all running to a particular spot to try and get a glimpse of the illustrious quetzal. I didn’t even know what a quetzal was, but the guide and ‘birdies’ as they’re known were all too quick to explain. It was quite a sight actually watching people scramble for the perfect viewing spot, then the bird would fly off to another tree and the sea of oldies would scream & race to the best spot!

large_DSCF1336.jpg

large_DSCF1349.jpg

large_DSCF1344.jpg

Nature's lips
large_DSCF1367.jpg

large_DSCF1377.jpg

Turns out we were apparently quite lucky, as on the three hour walk we managed to spot 3 of them. And they were rather beautiful.

large_DSCF1368.jpg

It was lovely to be up in the mountains for a few days, surrounded by nature. And it was our first taste of chilly air in months too.

Local cowboy
large_DSCF1410.jpg

We visited a butterfly farm while we there with loads of creepy crawlies
large_DSCF1383.jpg

large_DSCF1384.jpg

large_DSCF1398.jpg

large_DSCF1393.jpg

Next stop was the capital, San Jose, and the opportunity to drag Brendan down memory lane with me; visiting the university I attended, having a few beers on the trashy bar strip I frequented on so many occasions, even stopping for a photo in front of my favourite restaurant (and cause of the serious weight gain all those years ago). If it weren’t for my history with the city, we probably would have skipped through it, just as we had with all the other capitals from Guatemala southwards. They’re generally pretty dangerous places, and not set up with any tourist infrastructure– except for Mexcio City of course which we loved, and as we’d learn, Panama City too.

large_IMG_5123.jpg

large_IMG_5150.jpg

Our third and final stop in the country was a little beach town on the Caribbean coast (there’s a bit of a pattern emerging here I think), right down near the border of Panama called Puerto Viejo.

The jungle literally jutted all the way out to the beach, and with an awesome Caribbean vibe & stunning beaches we settled in nicely.
We spent our days riding bikes to the various beaches, doing yoga, eating local cacao and sipping cervesas.

large_IMG_5158.jpg

large_IMG_5181.jpg

large_IMG_5165.jpg

large_DSCF1438.jpg

large_IMG_5230.jpg

large_DSCF1440.jpg

A highlight was our trip to the Jaguar Rescue centre – no jaguars anymore, but plenty of rescued sloths, monkeys and incredibly colourful birds to keep us entertained.

large_DSCF1419.jpg

large_DSCF1434.jpg

large_IMG_5245.jpg

large_IMG_5202.jpg

large_IMG_5243.jpg

large_DSCF1435.jpg

large_DSCF1412.jpg

One lovely & familiar saying we kept hearing throughout the country was 'Pura Vida'. It literally means 'pure life', although the real meaning is closer to 'plenty of life' or 'full of life',' and is a quintessential Costa Rican phrase, often used instead of 'how are you' or as a greeting/farewell. It's really a true reflection of the Costa Rican people too as they are so lovely, friendly & smiley. It is the most stable & peaceful country in the region, they even permanently abolished their army in 1949 becoming the first sovereign nation to do so.

One interesting thing of note we heard along the way is that Nicaragua now is what Costa Rica was 20 years ago in terms of tourism & its effect on the country. Costa Rica is well set up for tourists with loads of activities to choose from, and is a popular spot with more than 1.5 million visitors a year. It was definitely the easiest and safest country to get around in central america, kind of like central america 101 for tourists (like Thailand is for South East Asia). So definitely a great place to start for those interested in exploring Central America, but not yet game for the likes of Guatemala or Honduras. On the other hand, if you want somewhere a bit more untouched, less touristy and loads cheaper, perhaps Nicaragua is for you......

Posted by hawkers2013 09:34 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged birds rainforest monteverde beach monkey jungle costa_rica nicaragua tropical bicycle toucan yoga puerto_viejo peaceful sloth lush pura_vida Comments (0)

Welcome to Paradise

The spectacular Corn Islands

sunny 30 °C

Our last destination in Nicaragua turned out to be the absolute highlight of our 6 week stay in the country.

The Corn Islands are located roughly 70km off Nicaragua's eastern caribbean coast. Getting there involves either a quick trip in a small plane from Managua, or a grueling bus and overnight on a ship. Considering all of the tedious overland traveling we had had thus far, a flight seemed like a fun novelty. La Costeña airlines flies into Big Corn Island, for $160 return, where an open panga/speedboat connects to Little Corn Island, our intended destination.

This is what a panga boat looks like. Slightly smaller than our ferry.
large_DSCF1252.jpg3

We were fortunate enough to take this 45min panga trip on what would be considered "borderline conditions", ie almost not operating. As we left the shelter of Big Corn's harbour and the twin 200hp outboards began to stretch, Amber and I, along with the other passengers in the front 4 rows, found ourselves regularly airborne off triple overhead swell and getting hit in the face with buckets of spray. It was hilarious, for the first 10 min. Screaming and hysterics were replaced with silence when the realisation set in that there was another 30 minutes plus of this beating to go, and we were already completely saturated from head to toe. Thankfully it was luke warm water and the luggage was stored in dry areas on the boat. We had read in other blogs that the crossing can be a little hairy, and that back injuries are not that uncommon for passengers being slammed back into their seats after launching off the back of waves. My favourite memory was of the lanky German sitting directly in front of me getting completely airborne while taking a swig of his beer bottle. That thing was stuck to his lips the whole way up and down and he had nothing to hold onto. The panic and indecision in his eyes were priceless. I still can't believe he didn't lose a tooth!

Once in the shelter of Little Corn's harbour, we pulled up at the dock, happy to have survived, and were greeted by locals shouting hotel names, with a wheelbarrow in hand ready to carry our luggage, and saying "welcome to paradise".

Little Corn is only 2.9sqkm in area and there are about 1200 people that live on the island, the majority of which are English-speaking Creole of mixed black (and pirate) heritage. Quite a divergence from mainland Nicaragua, to whom the locals refer to as “the Spaniards”.

Try speaking Creole for yourself. For best results, read out aloud to a friend.
large_1618551_10..437788440_n.jpg

Electricity on the island is sporadic and officially runs from 1pm to 5am, which means no major sleep-ins as once the fan stops spinning things get pretty sticky. One lovely thing about the island is that there are no cars or motorized vehicles of any kind, just wheelbarrows and bicycles. What food is not grown on the island is shipped in fresh, weekly on a cargo ship. It really is a little slice of paradise, with the real feeling that it is isolated from the rest of the world.
Lobster and fishing are the biggest industry on the island, although perhaps that has now been taken over by tourism as the secret starts to spread. $10 for a delicious whole lobster steamed simply & served with rice was such a treat.
That, coupled with white sand beaches, turquoise water, dense green jungle, an abundance of coconut trees and friendly folk made for one of the most authentic island experiences one could hope for.

large_1536708_10..600714492_n.jpg

large_DSCF1310.jpg

large_DSCF1288.jpg

large_DSCF1276.jpg

large_1560769_10..252792573_n.jpg

large_DSCF1294.jpg

large_DSCF1275.jpg

large_DSCF1314.jpg

At Farm Peace & Love we met two enormous dogs. A bull mastiff & great dane.
large_DSCF1316.jpg

large_DSCF1320.jpg

large_DSCF1327.jpg

Perfect conditions for stand up paddle boarding. As soon as Brendan hired the board these two local kids climbed aboard & ordered him to paddle. This went on for about 10 minutes until they capsized and Brendan got away!
Another side note - Brendan's wedding ring fell off whilst boarding, he managed to come back to shore, grab a snorkel, re-trace his steps and find it amongst the sea grass....WHAT!
large_1743533_10..399561550_n.jpg

Whilst on the island we decided to put our newly learnt diving skills to the test and ventured out for both a day & a night dive. The day dive was beautiful with water that was so warm we didn’t even need a full wetsuit. There was an abundance of nurse sharks, bright coral, colourful fish and an ambling green sea turtle. The night dive turned out to be the highlight though. It was slightly creepy jumping into pitch-black water and finding your way around with a little torch. There was a very curious nurse shark that literally followed us around for the entire 40 minutes (I get the feeling he was waiting for us to pick out fish with our torches so hence an easy supper for him). Towards the end of the dive we all came together and turned off our torches so we were enveloped in darkness in order for the bioluminescence to show itself. It was like swimming through stars. We swam in complete darkness for around 15 minutes with the silhouettes of our fellow divers illuminated by the flashing pulses of little, vivid green lights. Once on the surface we were all buzzing by what we had just experienced.

We didn't take any photos of our own down there, but here's something we stole from the net to give you an idea of what it was like
large_diving_1.jpg

The other highlight of our time in Nicaragua was the RUM. It is ubiquitous, it is cheap and it is very, very tasty. Flor de Cana (flower of the sugar cane) 7 year old was THE drink of choice during our stay. Mixed with soda water and fresh lime, on the rocks with lime or straight up, you cannot go wrong. The Mystica cocktail, introduced to us in Ometepe, was made with soda, lime and passionfruit pulp. This will certainly feature in our cocktail repertoire when we get home. Running at about $70 per 700ml in Australia, i doubt we will be drinking much more of it (at least not in the same quantity). In Nicaragua we would buy a huge 1.75L bottle for $30.

large_DSCF0858.jpg

Posted by hawkers2013 08:07 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged beaches_corn islands_paradise Comments (0)

Our Nicaraguan adventures

Spectacular beaches, pretty colonial towns, vast volcanoes, terrifying tarantulas and of course the surf.

sunny 32 °C

Our arrival into Nicaragua began with the most horrendous bus ride to date. There are basically 2 options from the island of Utila down into Nicaragua – do it all in the one hit, about 16 hours with a private shuttle bus. Or break it up and spend a night near the border. The majority of backpackers go the direct route given the less than ideal safety conditions of Honduras, and we did the same. Collectively as a group celebrating our scuba graduation and last night on Utila we decided it best not to sleep, plenty of time for that on the bus the next day and our ferry was leaving at 6am after all!
The ferry conditions were less than ideal, with sick bags being passed around and many returned full. The shuttle turned out to be a disheveled 10 person mini van, officially probably only an 8 person van but with an extra row of seats crammed in. Leg room was minimal, which meant for Brendan the most uncomfortable 18 hour ride of his life. Our poor friend Lee also broke out in an enormous red, scary rash that was growing by the hour, likely from sitting atop the frighteningly hot motor.

We made it in one piece though, just. Crossing the border at around 10pm, our friends had to pay the entrance fee twice as the official “didn’t remember” exchanging money merely seconds before. I managed to sleep a lot of the way, but apparently the countryside was rather beautiful. However it was interspersed with huge towers outside every service station with machine gun wielding security. Even our lunch stop, which was a huge bustling restaurant, had a security guard with a machete out front - slightly disconcerting.

We didn’t have a whole lot of expectations about Nicaragua. We’d met various backpackers on our route down south – generally those that visited loved it, others heard it was unsafe and opted to skip it. It’s growing in popularity for its world-class waves, cheap accommodation and delicious rum….

We spent our first two nights in the pretty colonial city of Leon. Christmas was fast approaching and thus the town was covered in decorations with Spanish carols blasting from restaurants and homes.

We had done quite a bit of research before deciding where to spend Christmas – many hostels & hotels book up fast over the silly season, and we had been planning a bit of a holiday from our holiday. It was time to sit still for a minute, 2 weeks was the longest we’d spent in the one place in almost 12 months so we were looking forward to a bit of down time, RnR, and more specifically, surfing.
We decided on a sleepy fishing town, well off the gringo trail, called Playa Gigante, about 30km north of the famous & tourist heavy San Juan del Sur. Unlike many of the nearby surfing spots, here you could walk to the local surf beaches rather than taking an expensive 4WD or panga boat.

What we discovered were untouched beaches stretching miles long, an abundance of wildlife & farm animals, a small local fishing & farming community of Nicaraguan’s, and an awesome bunch of expats (mainly Canadian’s and American’s) who welcomed us into their community with many a beer and parties.

large_DSCF0630.jpg

Not that much surf on our first day, but Brendan was super eager!
large_1521260_10.._60066864_n.jpg

large_DSCF0676.jpg

On our last day in Gigante we watched as this local fisherman waded out with his spear gun, shot this enormous rooster fish and then a heap of locals dove in to wrestle it!
large_1512743_10..804805397_n.jpg

The little casita we rented in the jungle for 2 weeks. Brendan on the porch with the resident dog names BJ who was hideously inbred & blind so had a tendency to bite. We learnt to love him.
large_DSCF0915.jpg

Typical morning view from our casita. Along with the seriously loud howler monkeys.
large_DSCF0865.jpg

Sunday Funday at Casa Swell
large_DSCF0968.jpg

large_DSCF0963.jpg

Daily sunset from Casa Swell - our home for the first week of our stay in Gigante
large_DSCF0646.jpg

Our favourite local cafe - Party Wave
large_DSCF0662.jpg

A sneaky highlight was the surprise arrival of some dear Dutch friends....

The men cooked up a feast of lobster tails & fish - all for $12
large_DSCF0849.jpg

large_DSCF0856.jpg

After 3 weeks in Gigante we were ready to hit the road again, and made our way to Isla de Ometepe (Ometepe Island). It’s an hour glassed shaped island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua consisting of two dramatic volcanoes joined by a low-lying isthmus. Originally not on our radar, many fellow travellers we met all raved about how worthwhile a visit there was. The taxi, ferry & 4WD transport to get to our accommodation on the island was all fairly rough, the highlight certainly being the graphic infomercial blasting on repeat on the ferry about how a toxic colon can ruin every aspect of your life.

large_DSCF1184.jpg

large_DSCF1127.jpg

We stayed at an incredibly beautiful place called Finca Mystica (www.fincamystica.com) on the southeastern tip of the island. Nestled at the foot of the dormant Maderas volcano, the American owners Ryan and Angela have hand built a paradisiacal retreat of homegrown organic fruit and vegies, very comfortable and clean mud brick cabins, delicious food and the one and only Mystica rum cocktail. There was plenty to do in the surrounding area including hikes to waterfalls, horse riding, swimming in the lake and the hiring of motorbikes. We spent a day touring the island on a large dirt bike, which was great fun. The roads that aren’t paved (the vast majority) are incredibly rough and rocky but the patchwork scenery of different types of agriculture with the background of the lake was spectacular. There was a slight incident early on with the bike involving acceleration rather than brake, and a panicked change of gear which left us both in the grass. A few locals came out for a look & laugh, and we were on our way (Brendan promising it would all be good from there!).

large_DSCF1175.jpg

large_DSCF1171.jpg

Resident howler monkeys
large_558284_101..001152532_n.jpg

large_DSCF1143.jpg

large_DSCF1145.jpg

large_DSCF1100.jpg

There were also many a creepy crawlies on the island (and in Nicaragua in general), so removing a spider from the shower or toilet was a common occurrence for Brendan if I were to remain calm. On one night on the farm as I was entering the communal toilet I immediately yelped and shut the door. Again Brendan thought I was overacting to yet another arachnid, however when I asked him to take a look for himself he too was a little shocked to see a tree snake curled up in front of the loo. Good man managed to get it out though with a long stick, and I avoided the loos as much as possible before we left.

large_1555326_10..223618528_n.jpg

Next stop was Granada, a charming & pretty colonial town featuring plenty of original architecture. We spent a couple of days wandering the streets, enjoying being back in a proper town with interesting eats & reliable wifi.

large_DSCF1186.jpg

large_DSCF1196.jpg

large_DSCF1219.jpg

A couple of friends from Melbourne happened to be staying half an hour away at a place called Laguna de Apoyo, so we spent the afternoon together swimming in the 200m deep volcano crater.

large_6141_10152..682671147_n.jpg

The least impressive part of our time in Granada was the $2.80 haircut I forked out for. I just wanted a simple trim & the hairdresser suggested a few layers - at the time it seemed a fairly straightforward suggestion. The entire haircut took a total of 3 minutes. Here’s a photo of the back a few weeks later when I straightened it. Note a Nica haircut with layers seems to translate to two distinct layers.

large_DSCF1724.jpg

Our final stop in Nicaragua was a very special place, so we've decided it deserves its own post. Stay tuned.

Posted by hawkers2013 16:59 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 12) Page [1] 2 3 »